Broadband—whether delivered via fiber, cable modem, mobile or fixed wireless, copper wire, or satellite—is increasingly the technology underlying telecommunications services such as voice, video, and data. Chapter 1 focuses on the gaps specifically related to broadband availability and adoption. How broadband is defined and characterized in statute and in regulation can have a significant impact on federal broadband policies and how federal resources are allocated to promote broadband deployment in unserved and underserved areas as discussed in chapter 2.
The move to place restrictions on the owners of the networks that comprise and provide access to the internet, to ensure equal access and nondiscriminatory treatment, is referred to as “net neutrality.” While there is no single accepted definition of net neutrality most agree that any such definition should include the general principles that owners of the networks that comprise and provide access to the internet should not control how consumers lawfully use that network; and should not be able to discriminate against content provider access to that network as reported in chapters 3 and 4.
The “digital divide” is a term that has been used to characterize a gap between “information haves and have-nots,” or in other words, between those Americans who use or have access to telecommunications and information technologies and those who do not. Chapter 5 focuses on the one important subset of the digital divide debate which concerns high-speed internet access and advanced telecommunications services, also known as broadband.
While there are many examples of rural communities with state-of-the-art telecommunications facilities, recent surveys and studies have indicated that, in general, rural areas tend to lag behind urban and suburban areas in broadband deployment. The Rural Utilities Service (RUS) at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) houses three ongoing assistance programs exclusively created and dedicated to financing broadband deployment: the Rural Broadband Access Loan and Loan Guarantee Program, the Community Connect Grant Program, and the ReConnect Program. Chapter 6 discusses each of these programs.
Tribal lands are generally in remote and rugged areas and broadband access can help residents develop online businesses, access telemedicine services, and use online educational tools. However, residents of tribal lands have lower levels of broadband access than residents of non-tribal lands. Chapters 7 through 11 report on the status of broadband on tribal lands.