ACA Connects: It Could Take $179 Billion to Future Proof Broadband

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(Image credit: Tim Robberts/Getty Images)

A new report from ACA Connects and consulting firm Cartesian says it could take up to $179 billion in government subsidies to build out universal, "future-proof" (at least 100/100 Mbps) broadband, more, even than the Biden Administration has proposed in all its broadband subsidies.

The money would be needed to fill the gaps in broadband infrastructure, availability and adoption, according to the report.

A somewhat less costly investment -- still $61 billion-$118 billion -- could achieve gigagit broadband to all locations with less than 100/20 Mbps service that are not part of the FCC's Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) Phase I, with enough left over to boost adoption for about half of the 33 million Lifeline-eligible households over five years.

Among the other key takeaways from the report:

1. "[A]pproximately 12 million households – including 8.2 million in partially served Census blocks not previously accounted for in FCC data – do not have access to 25/3 Mbps broadband [the FCC's current high-speed minimum], while approximately 30 million households do not subscribe to fixed broadband when it is available.

2. "Gigabit service availability has increased by approximately 50% since 2018, while areas that lack at least 100/20 Mbps service have declined by just 3 percentage points in the same period.

3. "Income Remains the Largest Barrier to Adoption, Regardless of Geography. An estimated 30 million households (~25% of U.S. households) do not subscribe to fixed broadband at home for reasons other than network availability, and 36% of non-subscribing households earn less than $20,000 per year. A comparable percentage of homes in rural and non-rural areas (29% versus 28%) do not subscribe even when service is available."

ACAC President Matt Polka says that if the country is going to make a "once in a generation" investment, then it needs analysis like this report to help it get the most broadband bang for its buck.

“We look forward to sharing our findings with all government policymakers, industry sectors, consumer interests, and other stakeholders," said Polka. "It’s a public resource for all stakeholders to use to help ensure the available funding is put to the best use.”

The report's funding model is based on maximizing essential access, which means prioritizing funding in unserved and with the least mature infrastructure.

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.