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Camoin and Tilson on broadband and economic development

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by Guest Author 11. March 2015 11:31

The following article is a collaborative effort between Tilson Technology ( and Camoin Associates (

Broadband, or high-speed internet access, has been getting a lot of media attention lately. Recently President Obama stated that “high speed internet is a not a luxury, it is a necessity.” Governor Cuomo proposed a $1 billion “New NY Broadband Program.” Tom Wheeler, Chair of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and a former cable lobbyist, has advocated striking down laws that protect incumbent broadband providers’ markets.

Why all the buzz? Better broadband—defined here as faster speeds, higher adoption rates, lower prices, and more reliability than the status quo for the roughly 45% of Americans called out by Obama—is a powerful economic development tool. It is linked to business growth, improved educational opportunities, better consumer welfare, improved healthcare access, improved government services, innovation, entrepreneurship, and more!

If you’re reading this article from a broadband connection, you’ve likely experienced the benefits of broadband that are not available to many rural Americans. Perhaps you’ve shared a file with a co-worker, taken an online course, Skyped with a family member, looked at the results of your recent bloodwork at the doctor’s office, or registered your motor vehicle online. The possibilities are growing exponentially, and are virtually endless. For some. The digital divide is splitting the broadband haves and have-nots along geographic lines that are shaping the course of economic development and—more importantly—quality of life.

Key findings from the FCC’s 2015 Broadband Progress Report include a new broadband benchmark of 25 megabits per second (Mbps) for downloads, and 3 Mbps for uploads. Speeds meeting the 25 Mbps/3 Mbps benchmark are available to 92% of urban Americans, but only 47% of rural Americans. Nonetheless, Americans living in rural and urban areas adopt the new benchmark broadband speeds, when available, at similar rates (see below).

The FCC, members of Congress, the President, and the Governor of New York have a common theme to their broadband message: they want to stimulate competition in broadband, and they are looking for innovative ways to enable coverage in rural areas that have to date been underserved by the Universal Service Fund program. In 2014, the FCC announced $100 million of funding for Rural Broadband Experiments as part of its Connect America initiative. More recently, the agency is considering a draft decision to intervene against state Laws in Tennessee and North Carolina that limit internet access operated and sold by cities. In New York, Andrew Cuomo is proposing to use $500 million from the state’s bank settlements to provide a one-to-one match for providers improving service in underserved areas on the state. The current method of expanding broadband service—whereby incumbent providers of regulated phone and TV provide add-on internet access service—is on the cusp of change.

In Maine, the municipalities of Islesboro, Ellsworth, Sanford, and Rockport are developing solutions that employ public-private partnerships to expand broadband in their underserved markets. Their solutions range from issuing a bond to fund a fiber-to-the-home network to using grant money to build key infrastructure that will enable future private broadband investment.

Because of the critical role of broadband on the economy as well as on community and individual well-being, it is imperative that economic and community developers understand these recent trends and begin taking action. Now is the time to begin actively working with partners to prepare and implement strategies that support the continued development of infrastructure, policies, and practices that will increase broadband access and adoption. Actions community leaders can take include:

  • Develop a Plan: Develop broadband plans, within or related to economic and community development plans, that address issues around infrastructure, organization, supply, demand, and adoption.
  • Build an Implementation Network: Develop and support learning and implementing networks, partnerships, or collaboratives for "strategic doing" among economic and community development, education, business, social services and healthcare, and cultural communities.
  • Initiate Cultural Change: Focus not only on technical, infrastructure, and funding issues but also around fostering a digital culture that supports innovation, entrepreneurship, and improved quality of life.

Our own interdisciplinary collaborative of Camoin Associates, Tilson Technology, and others will be digging deeper into these issues in the coming months and reporting on our findings. If this topic is pertinent to your community, we invite you to join the discussion by checking for updates on Camoin’s blog, joining our mailing list specific to this topic (click here), or reaching out to one of us directly with questions or suggestions for future articles:

Jim Damicis, Senior Vice President
Camoin Associates
Phone: (207) 831-1061

Aaron Paul, Director Energy and Broadband Consulting
Tilson Technology
Phone: (207) 837-2571