November 16, 2022
Recently, some of the state and country’s top innovation policy minds gathered in Miami to reflect on how Florida can continue to lead the future at the James Madison Institute’s Tech and Innovation Summit. Inevitably, and appropriately, these conversations always include a focus on broadband access and deployment.
That’s because even in Florida, where nearly 96% of residents have access to high-speed internet, hundreds of thousands are left with inadequate or no access — something many simply cannot comprehend in 2022. This digital divide stifles innovation, job creation, educational opportunities, health care options and more.
Efforts to bridge the digital divide should be made in concert with the private sector and market forces, not by funding more government-run networks or top-down solutions.
During the coronavirus pandemic, our nation’s internet capabilities were put to the test, as millions of Americans changed the way they worked, attended school and stayed in touch. Our networks successfully delivered, despite unprecedented demand for connectivity, displaying firsthand the strength and resiliency of internet infrastructure in the United States.
So, what makes our nation’s networks stronger and more resilient than others?
Over the past couple of years, lawmakers and regulators have cultivated an environment that welcomes broadband infrastructure investment from the private sector. In fact, a new report from USTelecom shows that just last year, private internet providers invested $86 billion in broadband infrastructure. To put that number in context, that’s more than double the $42.5 billion the federal government allocated for broadband expansion in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) in 2021.
This market-based approach has not only ensured the strength of U.S. networks, but it has led to great strides being made toward closing the digital divide and providing access to fast, reliable internet service for more families. In 2015, the average internet speed was just 43 mpbs. By 2022, that number had increased to 98 mpbs. As speeds increased, prices fell by 14 percent, and overall connectivity reached record levels.
That’s why, as the federal government considers how to disperse the billions of dollars for broadband expansion from the IIJA, it only makes sense to allow those with a proven track record of effective and efficient deployment to lead the charge.
Using the private sector to deploy these broadband funds in Florida and across the country will undoubtedly be the quickest and most successful approach to bringing high-speed internet access to currently unserved communities and ensuring better connectivity for everyone. Where government-run networks have historically been costly failures that have left taxpayers on the hook for millions of dollars, utilizing the private sector can help ensure these funds are used efficiently to build faster, more cost-effective networks that actually increase access and better serve our communities long term.
For our fellow Floridians living in the digital divide, it is imperative that the federal and state government pursues pragmatic and effective solutions to connectivity challenges and ensures funds to bridge the gap are spent as wisely as possible, while keeping consumer benefits and the goal of greater access firmly in mind. It’s clear that means focusing on free-market principles and commissioning the private sector to bring more people online.