SLC Regional Resource | April 2020

Missed Connections: State Funding Mechanisms for Broadband Expansion

Anne Roberts Brody

High-speed internet access, commonly referred to as “broadband,” is provided by a series of technologies — cable, telephone wire, fiber, satellite, mobile and fixed wireless — that allow users to send and receive data at speeds necessary to support a wide range of applications for voice communications, entertainment, telemedicine, distance education, telework, e-commerce, civic engagement, public safety and energy conservation, to name a few. Access to reliable, high-speed internet is vital to almost every aspect of the nation’s economy, and communities with broadband access enjoy a wide array of benefits. Often compared to the electrification of rural America, the increasing efforts to expand broadband access in rural areas have gained momentum across the South.

While the rate of broadband adoption continues to grow, largely in urban and suburban areas, numerous studies and surveys indicate that broadband deployment in rural areas continues to lag. Rural areas also tend to have fewer broadband providers, leading to limited options and competition for customers, as well as slower connection speeds. Meanwhile, nearly one quarter of rural adults say that access to high-speed internet is a major problem in their local community.

State laws and policies can facilitate and encourage broadband expansion in underserved rural areas. Building upon the 2016 SLC Regional Resource, The Role of State and Local Government in Broadband Deployment, this SLC Regional Resource explores funding mechanisms implemented by Southern states to encourage broadband expansion in rural, unserved and underserved areas.