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Research Report

3 Ways Institutions Can Help Expand Broadband

April 8, 2021 , By Brynna Morgan, Associate Director

COVID-19 has highlighted the digital divide across America, especially in rural communities and low-income urban areas. Today, high-speed internet access is critical for virtual learning, job searches, and rural healthcare access. High-speed internet access also directly impacts local economic growth, leading to job creation and increased productivity.

Progressive universities must consider how they can partner with other stakeholders in their communities to increase access to high-speed internet. While universities do not typically provide broadband directly to consumers, they can support economic development by leveraging their existing research and partnerships to expand broadband access in their communities.

The Biden administration plans to invest $400 billion to expand broadband access, especially in underserved rural communities. While federal funding will likely be distributed across the next few years, every state has already begun investing in broadband.

Universities can leverage governmental and corporate funding currently available, collect necessary data, and organize community partnerships now to better prepare their communities for broadband development.


Students in rural areas who lack broadband access


States with a dedicated office to broadband expansion


Amount states spent on broadband expansion from FCC funding in 2017

3 solutions to expand broadband

1. Current broadband maps are often misleading and inaccurate

Data on broadband is often unreliable because the FCC records entire blocks as broadband accessible even if only one home on the block has it. However, it is very expensive and resource-intensive for only one organization to track access.

Therefore, it is unlikely that national information about broadband access will be accurate without the help of communities to help collect and analyze local data.

University actions

Provide mapping services to analyze community readiness and needs for broadband.

  • Apply for government and non-profit grants to map broadband coverage in their local communities, which will help to support broadband expansion efforts in the future.
  • Provide accurate, unbiased connectivity data about which properties do and do not currently have internet access.
  • Gather and analyze data on residents’ internet use and share this information with community leaders to help them make decisions about broadband services. It is important to have information on how, when, and where residents use the internet to make good decisions about investments to increase broadband access.

2. Broadband research initiatives and recommendations are often made in siloes

Broadband research initiatives and recommendations are often made in siloes.

Solutions for digital equity are often found for schools, public housing, businesses, or residential neighborhoods but plans rarely bring together stakeholders from various groups to compile resources and make recommendations.

University actions

Leverage existing strengths as an anchor institution to convene community stakeholders to raise funding and awareness for broadband access.

  • Partner with government leaders, other institutions, K-12 schools, business organizations, and non-profits to combine resources, evaluate existing digital infrastructure for a coherent strategy, and present a unified community voice.
  • Create an environment where community partners can align their perspectives, share information and recommendations, and discover opportunities for new collaborations and partnerships.
  • Identify potential state, federal, and non-profit funding sources to pay for research, pilot projects, and provision of high-speed broadband for the community.

3. Funding for broadband research, pilot projects, and initiatives are dispersed across multiple organizations and stakeholders, leading to less informed and strategic policies

Grant opportunities for broadband initiatives are offered by many different stakeholders, including state governments, federal agencies, non-profit organizations, and businesses. Organizations acting alone struggle to access resources for broadband research and initiatives because funding is so dispersed.

University actions

Educate community organizations and government stakeholders to coordinate funding for broadband initiatives and enact policy change.

  • Identify current funding opportunities and convene relevant stakeholders to coordinate efforts.
  • Use existing research strengths to identify unique local needs, existing community infrastructure, and possible recommendations for organizations and government to implement stronger access to broadband.
  • Pilot recommendations, track data, and demonstrate results to local government, state agencies, or private organizations to provide broadband services long-term.

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