Florida is home to national and international destinations for tourism and commerce, yet many Floridians lack access to broadband internet in their homes. Rural areas tend to be underserved by traditional telecommunication providers because low population densities and large geographical areas increase the cost to construct needed infrastructure and provide service, reducing the incentive for providers to serve these areas.  Those areas that do have service typically have little to no competition among providers, increasing the cost to the subscriber, sometimes to the extent that service unaffordable and therefore not available to the average resident.    

 

The digital divide characterizes the gap between those with or without access to telecommunication and information technologies. The term may refer to both high-speed internet and broadband access. In order to reduce the impacts of limited access to these technologies, federal programs have been established to provide connectivity to poorly served and under-served areas. 

 

Currently, federal programs are split between two major funding mechanisms for broadband infrastructure: 

 

It reduces the cost of operating and extending infrastructure (both fixed and mobile) to serve consumers and small businesses in rural, high-cost areas. A recipient of funding must be designated an “eligible telecommunications carrier” by the relevant state or, in cases in which the state does not have jurisdiction over a particular type of provider, the Federal Communications Commission.

 

FCC proposed rule from July 2019 seeks to expand upon the Connect America Fund Phase II reverse auction to begin providing $1.488 billion in universal service support over ten years to build highspeed broadband service to over 700,000 households and small businesses in 45 states, with 99.75% of locations receiving at least 25/3 Mbps service and more half receiving at least 100/20 Mbps service.  

 

  • E-Rate (Schools and Libraries) Program  

  • Rural Health Care Program  

  • Lifeline Program  

 

Houses three ongoing assistance programs exclusively created and dedicated to financing broadband deployment:  

  • Rural Broadband Access Loan and Loan Guarantee Program 

  • Community Connect Grant Program 

  • ReConnect Program

 

Additionally, the Telecommunications Infrastructure Loan and Loan Guarantee Program (previously the Telephone Loan Program) funds broadband deployment in rural areas. Distance Learning and Telemedicine (DLT) grants—while not principally supporting connectivity—fund equipment and software that operate via telecommunications to rural end-users of telemedicine and distance learning applications.

In 2018, FAC membership voted to adopt a statement in support of expanding broadband access throughout the state partnering with experienced providers using the most efficient technology.  In Florida, the barriers to internet ubiquity appear to be two-fold: (1) the lack of last-mile service due to the cost to construct and operate a network; and (2) refusal of prospective end-users to subscribe to available service, typically due to cost.   

 

During the 2018-2019 policy year, FAC’s Rural Caucus looked at the structural barriers to access to broadband services and determined that both the public and private sector needed to invest additional resources into infrastructure but that existing information about where services are provided and where services was needed made resource allocation challenging and undermined efforts to determine effectiveness of past programs.  

 

Stay tuned for updates from our Rural Caucus ListServ. Not a member? Sign up here to join the conversation!

 

Research questions? Contact Jeff Scala, Legislative Analyst, at jscala@fl-counties.com.