- As more cities look to expand broadband internet options, the nonprofit Next Century Cities has released the policy guide "Becoming Broadband Ready," which offers step-by-step guidance on how to assess and establish broadband options.
- Among the steps the toolkit recommends are having a dedicated staff member to oversee broadband access, building community support and prioritizing digital inclusion to bring in underserved residents.
- The guide also recommends that cities explore multiple financing options like municipal bonds or internal loans. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC), U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and Community Reinvestment Act also offer sources of funding for new broadband projects.
Recognizing that internet access "is now a bedrock ingredient for resilient communities," Next Century Cities is aiming to help cities large and small navigate new broadband options. The guide, which launched Wednesday, was written with input from a wide range of cities, and will be updated as new technology options come online.
The lack of broadband is especially pronounced in rural areas; a recent U.S. Census Bureau report found that most of the counties that have low rates of broadband subscription are mostly or completely rural. While Congress and the White House have talked up the need to expand rural broadband, massive federal investments have stalled and communities have taken matters into their own hands. Besides direct investment in broadband infrastructure — including through USDA grants — cities have partnered with corporations like Microsoft to help bring more broadband access.
StateScoop reports that the ongoing federal shutdown has hampered communities’ access to the USDA rural broadband program, including guidance on eligibility for loans. That’s left many cities and nonprofits trying to expand rural broadband stuck in limbo.
However, the digital divide also persists within cities, where entire neighborhoods can lack sufficient internet options. Some cities have tackled the problem through education and community outreach, rather than focusing solely on infrastructure.