Consumer Groups Launch Broadband Connects America Coalition to End Digital Divide

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Today, Public Knowledge joins 17 rural, consumer, community media, tech rights, academic, and civil rights groups in launching Broadband Connects America, a coalition dedicated to ensuring all Americans have access to high-speed broadband.

The coalition launch includes a framework for Principles to Connect Rural America. These principles provide guidelines to policymakers considering how to fund rural broadband deployment projects. They outline how to modernize high-speed broadband infrastructure, address complex access and affordability problems in diverse rural areas, and deploy new broadband infrastructure to best connect all Americans.

The five rural broadband principles are:

  • Funding should be simple and allocated directly to infrastructure needs, not directly to last-mile carriers.
  • Closing the rural digital divide will require a combination of approaches that reflects the complexity of the challenges of deploying broadband to rural America.
  • Deployment should be focused on achieving tangible, affordable universal service to all rural Americans rather than allocated based on profit per population density.
  • Restoring net neutrality is essential to closing the rural digital divide.
  • Rural Americans’ access to high-speed internet should not be disadvantaged because of geography.

Public Knowledge, Access Humboldt, Akaku Maui Community Media, Axiom, Benton Foundation, Brian Whitacre, California Center For Rural Policy, Center for Rural Strategies, Citizens Connectivity Committee, Full Color Future, Institute for Local Self-Reliance, National Consumer Law Center, National Digital Inclusion Alliance, National Hispanic Media Coalition, Next Century Cities, Rural Community Alliance- Arkansas, Tribal Digital Village Network, and X-Lab signed the principles. Membership is ongoing and local rural broadband organizations and advocates are encouraged to join.

The following can be attributed to Daiquiri Ryan, Policy Fellow at Public Knowledge:

“Rural America is desperate for meaningful broadband connection. These principles are a big step forward in making that happen. These Principles to Connect Rural America outline simple, common-sense ways that policymakers across the aisle can facilitate broadband deployment in rural areas. Ensuring reliable, consistent access to the internet will level the playing field and allow rural America to utilize all of the economic opportunities its urban counterparts enjoy.”

The following can be attributed to Sean Taketa McLaughlin, Executive Director at Access Humboldt:

“Universal access to open and secure broadband networks is a fundamental human right and this is true across regions of diverse ecosystems and communities. Local jurisdictions are making substantial investments in public rights of way and infrastructure. The Principles to Connect Rural America reflect a shared vision across the rural landscape that will enable local communities to connect with private, non-profit and public sectors, and build on local investments in community anchor institutions -- including public safety, health, education, public works, civic engagement, culture, arts and local media organizations. At the same time these Principles reflect a hopeful solution path to build sustainable connections with micropolitan, suburban and metropolitan folks as well.”

The following can be attributed to Adrianne B. Furniss, Executive Director at Benton Foundation:

“The challenge we face today is: How will we extend the benefits of broadband -- and the opportunities it delivers -- to all Americans? There are no easy solutions. But this challenge must be addressed based on the same tenets that have always guided U.S. communications policy -- a commitment to ubiquitous, affordable access to the most important technologies of the era.

“Too many Americans have been left behind. We need investment in broadband infrastructure in rural and low-income America with a strong commitment to competition, accountability, efficiency, and oversight. The Principles to Connect Rural America should guide that investment. Without access to high-speed broadband, rural Americans are cut off from information, employment, and the skills training that other Americans have benefitted from. In short, these Americans are cut off from opportunity.

“Our nation’s commitment to ubiquitous and affordable communications has never been more important. In the midst of the information technology revolution, we cannot and should not abandon or weaken our guarantee of universal, affordable communications access for all Americans no matter where they live. We must unleash the rivers of data and opportunity that broadband enables, and extend prosperity to every community.”

The following can be attributed to Connie E. Stewart, Executive Director at California Center For Rural Policy:

“Broadband, like every other type of infrastructure, needs to be built to address rural communities’ economic futures. Current broadband policy isn’t even meeting current needs! These broadband principles, when enacted, will help reduce the prosperity gap between rural, urban and suburban communities.”

The following can be attributed to Dee Davis, President of the Center for Rural Strategies:

“Access to dependable and affordable broadband is a necessary condition for rural communities to be successful. We can’t continue to shovel money at the largest providers and expect to reach all the places. We need funding options that allow for solutions that work in our unique places, whether they are private, public, cooperative, or non-profit.”

The following can be attributed to Brian Woolfolk, Founding Executive Director at Full Color Future:

“People of color live and work in urban, suburban and rural communities. All of these communities deserve full access to our digital future.”

The following can be attributed to Christopher Mitchell, Director of Community Broadband Networks at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance:

“Rural America has been buffering while elected officials have wasted billions of dollars on the biggest telephone companies -- now it is time for solutions focused on rural America, not industry lobbyists.”

The following can be attributed to Olivia Wein, Staff Attorney at the National Consumer Law Center:

“Low-income consumers in rural areas must have affordable, quality broadband service so children can do their homework at home and so families have improved access to medical care, work opportunities, financial services and other essentials for modern daily life.”

The following can be attributed to Francella Ochillo, Vice President, Policy & General Counsel at National Hispanic Media Coalition:

“Millions of Latinos across rural America are missing out on educational and economic opportunities simply because they do not have access to broadband Internet. Those communities deserve better, equal access and reliable connectivity. Otherwise, they will continue to be denied full participation in a digital society, and those who are connected will continue to miss out on their talents and industry.”

The following can be attributed to Deb Socia, Executive Director at Next Century Cities:

“Access to fast, affordable, reliable broadband is critical in rural America. Ensuring availability to this 21st century infrastructure will allow rural communities, and therefore our country as a whole, to thrive. The Principles to Connect Rural America outline common-sense strategies toward this non-partisan goal.”

The following can be attributed to Candace Williams, Executive Director at Rural Community Alliance-Arkansas:

“Broadband is as important to rural Arkansas this century as electricity was in the 20th century. It is imperative that families and children in rural communities have access to adequate and affordable broadband service. The future and livelihood of rural America greatly depends on its’ overall connectivity ability. The Principles to Connect Rural America gives vision to what we need to ensure that rural becomes better connected for the future.”

The following can be attributed to Matthew Rantanen, Director at Tribal Digital Village Network:

“Native American Communities are often an afterthought when it comes to connectivity, though they are within the rural areas that are intended to be focused on. Without specifically including them in the equation, they will continue to be left out of the solution. It is with great interest that we expand the scope and thought process to include all of the people that reside in our rural communities.”

The following can be attributed to Sascha Meinrath, Director at the X-Lab:

“Meaningful participation in a 21st century economy requires broadband; our lack of planning to ensure universal availability is already crippling rural America. Broadband Principles to Connect Rural America are vital to ensure that large swaths of the country -- thousands of local communities -- are not relegated to an ever-increasing disadvantage in the coming years.”

You may view the coalition’s full rural broadband principles and a blog post summarizing the principles, as well as a blog post from a local rural broadband advocate who can’t get high-speed internet access despite living 50 miles from Silicon Valley to learn more about this issue.

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