As we enter the new decade, access to the internet has become what access to electricity was in the early 1900’s – essential for modern living.

What follows is a data-driven series examining the state of broadband deployment in the U.S. throughout the 2010’s, as well as a look ahead to where and how advanced deployment technologies will affect our progress looking out to the next decade.

How broadband connectivity changed in America from 2010 to 2020

All 50 States Ranked for Broadband Infrastructure Growth

It is difficult to quantify just how transformational a force the internet has been throughout the 2010’s. Services thousands of us use daily simply did not exist at the turn of the decade, and today the world is increasingly shaped by events that transpire online.

In many ways, the cultural and societal evolution on the web has outpaced the expansion of the infrastructure we actually rely on to get connected in the first place. In this report, we break down and quantify where broadband deployment progress has been made in the U.S., and where more work needs to be done.

Broadband in the U.S.: 2010 to 2020

Despite a decade of explosive technological innovation and unprecedented governmental spending, there remains a vast digital divide in the U.S. The early internet landscape was pioneered here, using copper telephone cables. This has resulted in a sort of “first mover” problem: America invented the web, and the “technology debt” of all that money sunk into now-outdated copper networks is hard to justify building over at scale.

Other countries that today have robust internet infrastructure have had the benefit of building out their digital infrastructure from scratch on mature technologies, with all the benefit of our mistakes and hindsight.

Percentage of Consumers With Access to Wired Broadband at 500 Mbps

From 2010 to 2020, Americans with access to broadband internet increased from an estimated 74.5 percent to 93.5 percent, as represented by the light blue line above. The navy dot represents the old federal broadband standard of 4 Mbps download,1 Mbps upload, which was changed to the current 25 Mbps, 3 Mbps threshold in 2015.

About this data

The data contained within this report comes from a mix of public and private sources. The backbone deployment information is taken from the FCC’s Form 477 deployment report, which for many years included “percent unserved” as a qualifying metric. In 2017, the FCC began omitting this information, opting instead to list “percent served.” For the purposes of this report, we have used these numbers to calculate the inverse “percent unserved” as the FCC did in years prior to 2017. This takes into account all terrestrial and wired connections. Satellite and cellular coverage is not included in the dataset.

For all deployment data, we have used the FCC’s current definition for broadband, which is 25 Mbps download and 3 Mbps upload. Prior to 2015, the minimum broadband speeds were lower, which allowed coverage to be broader. To adjust for this, we have projected 2010's coverage using the current broadband definition. We have listed both the "actual" measurements for 2010 under the prior speeds alongside this new "projected" measure using the current broadband threshold.

To calculate our projection, we used the information available, such as the deployment growth rate from 2015 to 2019 under the current broadband definition, as well as the current coverage difference using both the pre-2015 and post-2015 broadband definitions. We calculated this at both the state and national levels.

Fiber

Fiber optic connections may make up the majority of the internet’s backbone infrastructure, but the future proofed connection is still only available to 25 percent of the U.S. population. By comparison, China has developed its fiber footprint out to 86 percent penetration nationally.

Cable

Cable is the most common connection used by Americans today, and for the time being, this does not seem likely to change. Millions of homes are wired for cable access, and though it is not as resilient to advancements as fiber, cable does have an upper limit that has some room to grow.

Fixed Wireless

Fixed wireless has enjoyed explosive growth over the past 10 years, with hundreds of new local providers springing up around the country. Average fixed wireless network speeds increased by more than 250 percent over the past five years alone, highlighting their potential in narrowing the divide in the coming years.

DSL

While digital subscriber line connections are extremely common around the U.S., the technology has essentially been maxed out, and very little new deployments are being made.

Policy Changes

Community Broadband

In 2010, community networks were just beginning to take shape in certain parts of the country. Each year since, dozens of cities and communities have taken matters into their own hands, building out municipal infrastructure and cooperatives that now provide some of the best broadband services in the nation.

Despite this growth, currently 25 states have roadblocks in place restricting or outright banning these networks from being formed. It remains to be seen if this number will change dramatically in 2020 and beyond.

Net Neutrality

At the start of the decade, net neutrality protections were the letter of the law. These regulations ensured that no ISP could block, slow down, or charge extra fees to access certain content online. This continued to largely be the case until 2017, when President Trump’s FCC (headed by Ajit Pai) removed the protections in a move that is still facing ongoing legal challenges across the nation.

By contrast from the start of the decade, the issue has now become one for states to weigh in on individually, with high-profile cases like California’s state net neutrality bill at the forefront of the public discussion.

Broadband Deployment By State

In order to understand where progress has been made and where infrastructure is at a standstill, it is useful to look at the rates of broadband development within each state. The following visuals display the rates of deployment across all 50 states groups by their relative rates of growth from 2010 to 2020. Especially important to note is that dearth of expansion in predominantly rural states such as Utah, which has seen little movement over the past five years in particular.

State Rankings: Overall Broadband Penetration
RankingState2020 Penetration2015 Penetration2010 Penetration10 Year Growth
1Connecticut99%99%86%15%
2New Jersey99%98%86%15%
3New York98%97%85%15%
4Rhode Island98%99%87%13%
5District of Columbia98%99%86%14%
6Massachusetts98%96%85%16%
7Delaware98%97%85%16%
8Maryland98%93%82%19%
9Washington97%96%84%16%
10California97%93%82%18%
11Florida96%93%82%17%
12Hawaii96%96%84%16%
13Pennsylvania95%87%78%22%
14Minnesota95%87%77%24%
15North Carolina95%86%76%24%
16Illinois95%95%83%14%
17Ohio95%83%75%26%
18New Hampshire95%83%74%28%
19Utah94%95%83%13%
20Maine93%78%72%31%
21North Dakota93%85%74%25%
22Colorado93%82%74%25%
23Texas93%62%60%54%
24Nevada93%94%83%12%
25Georgia92%86%77%20%
26Oregon92%93%82%13%
27Michigan92%87%77%20%
28Virginia92%79%71%29%
29Wisconsin91%83%75%22%
30Tennessee91%82%74%23%
31Kansas91%73%67%36%
32Kentucky91%60%58%57%
33Iowa91%75%69%31%
34Indiana90%86%77%17%
35South Carolina90%77%70%29%
36Vermont89%20%17%412%
37South Dakota89%81%70%27%
38Missouri89%71%66%35%
39Louisiana88%71%66%33%
40Nebraska87%73%67%30%
41Arizona87%83%75%17%
42Montana86%13%11%652%
43Alabama86%65%61%41%
44Idaho85%50%43%98%
45West Virginia85%44%40%109%
46New Mexico83%70%64%30%
47Wyoming81%70%64%27%
48Alaska80%61%57%41%
49Mississippi80%60%58%38%
50Oklahoma79%51%51%56%
51Arkansas77%41%36%117%

* 2020 values are based on FCC's 2019 values

† 2010 values are based on projections

The Future of Broadband Deployment: 100% by 2030

We estimate that if terrestrial broadband deployment rates remained the same, America could be 100 percent wired for broadband by 2030. That said, many of the remaining areas that are not currently wired are difficult to service, either for topographical or economic reasons (or both).

In order to fully close the digital divide, a serious commitment would be required from both the public and private sector. In our view, here are several paths we could take to 100% coverage by 2030:

More effective mapping and smarter governmental funding strategies close the gap

If broadband availability mapping was measurably improved, it could aid those making decisions on where to allocate funding resources by showing them where exactly gaps in availability were present. As it stands, issues of overreporting make it more difficult to measure progress, and build out service to the millions of Americans still going without.

Nascent technologies like low-Earth orbit satellite supplement difficult-to-wire areas

While low-Earth orbit and other emergent technologies are not yet in operation, it seems likely that this will change over the course of the 2020’s. If so, they could potentially provide robust broadband to areas difficult or impossible to wire by conventional means.

Community broadband initiatives step in to pick up the slack in low-competition areas

Municipal broadband initiatives have already provided hundreds of communities with robust connectivity, and over the next decade, we expect that many of the laws and regulations roadblocking these innovative solutions will be eased or eliminated.

Broadband 2020-2030: Rural Economic Growth

Broadband has the potential to enable new growth in rural economies by growing opportunities for businesses and residents alike. Expanding broadband access can deliver an economic lift to rural communities that are struggling to keep up with a digital economy that has largely left those communities behind.

The World Bank estimates that a 10 percent increase in broadband penetration can deliver a 1.21 percent jump in GDP growth. That means that bringing broadband services to just 2 million rural Americans that currently lack access would add $4.8 billion to the U.S. GDP per year.

Broadband plays an increasingly important role in commerce today, and extending broadband access to businesses can deliver even more revenue to local economies. Increased access to digital tools and technology could see up to $80 billion in revenue generated by small businesses in rural communities, while simultaneously reducing rural unemployment rates and fostering new employment opportunities through remote working and online services. And iInternet-enabled distance learning opportunities can help rural workers raise their average earning potential by 29 percent through obtaining higher education degrees and vocational training.

Rural economy challenges

Rural America is facing a number of unique challenges today amid a confluence of technological advancements that is transforming economies around the world. Increased automation in industrial, agricultural and manufacturing sectors, coupled with the meteoric rise of the digital economy, have left rural communities struggling to keep pace economically with urban and metropolitan areas.

The Great Recession of 2007-2009 hit rural regions much harder than urban areas, and rural communities are still struggling with recovering from the global economic downturn, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s 2019 Rural America At A Glance report. While metro areas have enjoyed population increases since the recession, rural counties have suffered population declines; similarly, employment has grown in all areas of the U.S. except for the most rural counties, and poverty rates have grown higher in the most isolated rural counties since the recession, compared to urban and suburban areas.

The decline of rural America is due largely to declines in the industry sectors that once kept rural counties afloat. Reductions in farming, mining, and manufacturing jobs have caused personal incomes to decline in rural areas, and have contributed to “brain drain” in these communities, as younger workers migrate to metro areas looking for employment. Metro areas have enjoyed nearly 99 percent of all job and population growth since the recession, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce.

Rural communities are in desperate need of increased access broadband networks, as high-speed internet has become the backbone of the 21st century economy. The Bureau of Economic Analysis estimates the digital economy is growing roughly 10 percent per year, nearly three times as fast as the overall economy. Without adequate broadband services, rural residents are unable to participate in one of the fastest growing sectors of the U.S.’s GDP. That disadvantage runs across nearly all aspects of life: from completing homework assignments and obtaining online degrees and certifications, to finding remote work employment opportunities or growing small businesses online, to even accessing healthcare.

How broadband can help transform rural America

The need to address the U.S.’s glaring digital divide continues to grow as the digital economy plays a larger role in the country’s GDP. Increased access to high-speed broadband will help small rural businesses expand, grow employment opportunities for residents, increase access to education opportunities, and reduce healthcare costs.

Boosting local economies: Increased broadband penetration and offering more network reliability and bandwidth capacity would open up new economic opportunities for employers and residents alike. Online tools and services can help small businesses expand their customer base significantly, boosting sales and increasing revenue, while also reducing costs and increasing efficiency. Digital technology increased gross sales for rural small businesses by 17.2 percent during the past three years, representing $69.8 billion per year, according to a study conducted by the U.S. Chamber Technology Engagement Center and Ipsos. That added an additional $38.7 billion to U.S. GDP per year, and created nearly 270,000 new jobs -- an economic equivalent of the GDP of Vermont. Increasing access to digital technologies for rural small businesses could add an additional 0.2 percent per year to the national GDP, and reduce unemployment by six percent.

Improving employment access: Ubiquitous high-speed Internet can also expand employment opportunities for rural residents. With the internet, rural residents can access remote working and tele-commuting jobs; and coworking spaces can foster rural entrepreneurs and new digital business models. Research indicates broadband access can increase job growth for rural communities by up to 1.4 percent, and increase the number of businesses in a rural community 1.2 percent. Areas that have three or more broadband providers enjoy 6.4 percent higher employment growth and 2.4 percent more population growth than areas that are unserved by broadband.

Expanding education opportunities: Rural communities typically lack education opportunities that urban populations rely on to prepare young adults to enter the workforce. Increased penetration of broadband networks can help rural students engage in more early education opportunities and complete homework assignments, and can expand vocational and secondary education opportunities for young adults. Rural areas are often “higher education deserts,” with 41 million U.S. residents living within 25 miles of either just one higher education public institution or none at all. Some three million of these residents are without broadband access, according to the Urban Institute. Higher education and vocational degrees lift earning potential for workers. Rural workers with a bachelor’s degree earn $13,703 more annually, on average, than those with only a high school diploma, according to USDA data.

Reducing healthcare costs: Healthcare is another area where increased broadband penetration can improve rural economies. Telemedicine services and applications allow rural residents to access healthcare services without needing to drive long distances to reach the closest healthcare center. Telemedicine options also help improve health outcomes for rural residents who might otherwise wait months or years before traveling to visit a doctor to discuss a health issue. Cost-savings delivered by telemedicine services have been well documented in research over the last decade. A 2009 study determined that five rural communities in Oklahoma, for example, saved a total of $3.5 million in “teleradiology” and “telepsychiatry” services alone; other studies have documented $30 million saved in ICU visits over an eight-year period. Those cost-savings can directly grow local economies by reducing the economic burden of receiving healthcare for residents and improving health outcomes.

Closing the digital divide will transform rural economies

The FCC estimates it would cost $40 billion to bring broadband access to 98 percent of the country, but it would cost another $40 billion to reach the final two percent of U.S. residents without broadband. But given the economic benefits of increased broadband networks, the return on that investment would pay for itself in just a few years.

Rural economies could see gains of between $60 and $80 billion per year by expanding high-speed internet access, supporting online commerce for small businesses, and offering new employment opportunities for rural Americans. Closing the digital divide will help transform rural economies and keep rural communities competitive in our increasingly digital world.

Broadband 2020-2030: Broadband’s Role In The Roadway Infrastructure Revolution

Smart roadway technology could free up more than 250 million hours of consumers’ commuting time per year, and generate $7 trillion per year in revenue.

This article is part of our series on the upcoming decade, and how broadband infrastructure can address some of the nation’s (and world’s challenges). The growing ubiquity of broadband connectivity and smart infrastructure is driving a major revolution in how people and goods are transported: cars themselves, and the roads they drive on, are becoming “smarter.”

The modern car has about 100 million lines of programming code, processes up to 25 gigabytes of data an hour with the computing power of 20 PCs. But new broadband-powered technologies are emerging that enable vehicle computers to communicate with other vehicles, internet-connected traffic lights and even street furniture like street lights and parking meters. New vehicles are now equipped with cellular and Wi-Fi technologies in the U.S and Europe, enabling a new suite of services, applications and solutions in the connected car ecosystem.

Traffic costs consumers billions each year

Traffic congestion and accidents can cost economies billions in wasted fuel, productivity loss and healthcare costs. U.S. residents lose an estimated 97 hours each year due to congestion. The U.S. lost nearly $87 billion in 2018, an average of $1,348 per driver, due to traffic, while an estimated 3.3 billion gallons of fuel was wasted in traffic in 2017. Traffic can also increase fossil fuel emissions, as vehicles spend more time on the road, and burn fuel less efficiently.

The inefficiencies caused by traffic conditions ripple throughout the economy. In 2017, the economy lost an estimated $166 billion due to traffic congestion, according to Texas A&M’s Transportation Institute. That number could reach $200 billion by 2025. Traffic problems also translate into delays in trucking operations, which has significant implications for other sectors of the economy. Trucking delays alone cost $20.1 billion in 2017.

Traffic accidents have huge economic impacts, too. The CDC estimates the cost of medical care and productivity losses associated with occupant injuries and deaths from vehicle traffic crashes exceeded $75 billion in 2017. McKinsey estimates that for every person killed in a vehicle accident, eight are hospitalized and 100 are treated at emergency rooms. Reducing accidents could save up to $190 billion in related healthcare costs.

Smart infrastructure and automated vehicles can generate Billions

Broadband-connected vehicles and roadway infrastructure can both help reduce the financial and productivity burdens of traffic while also generating new services and business models. Automated vehicles (AVs), also called driverless cars, could contribute up to $800 billion annually in economic and societal benefits once fully deployed, according to one study. AVs could generate $7 trillion each year globally by 2050, and in the process save hundreds of thousands of lives, according to another study, which predicts that driverless cars will free up more than 250 million hours of consumers’ commuting time per year in the most congested cities in the world by 2050.

Reduced traffic congestion and increased use of AVs can also improve job opportunity access to more residents in urban settings, and increase job productivity while commuting. Improved traffic flow can reduce commute times, opening up employment opportunities for residents who live further away from business districts or downtown areas. Driverless cars can also improve access to transportation for individuals with disabilities, increasing opportunities for employment for these individuals and adding to the GDP.

Enabling technologies

The connected car ecosystem is bolstered by many of the smart city applications being deployed today across major metro areas and cities. The roadway revolution is being driven by vehicle communication systems and broadband-connected roadway infrastructure.

V2X technologies: Vehicle-to-everything (V2X) refers to a range of technologies enabling communication between vehicles and other objects, including other vehicles, pedestrians, street furniture and traffic lights. V2X technologies rely on broadband networks to communicate. Earlier iterations of connected car prototypes were designed to use Dedicated Short-Range Communications (DSRC) to communicate, but automakers are embracing 5G wireless broadband as a more cost-effective alternative. Vehicle-to-infrastructure (V2I) technologies form a framework through which vehicles are able to share information like speed, direction, weather or driving conditions, with other devices along a roadway, such as traffic lights, signage, cameras, lane makers and parking meters. V2I technologies rely on wireless connectivity to enable two-way communication between the vehicle and the structure. A signage board along an interstate can alert approaching cars to slowed traffic ahead, for example, while an intelligent transport system (ITS) can collect speed data from vehicles to improve traffic management, set speed limits, or inform signal phase and timing (SPaT) systems to reduce congestion and improve fuel economy.

Smart infrastructure: Broadband-connected infrastructure is a growing component of smart city applications and solutions. Weather sensors, traffic cameras, air quality sensors, and even information from police scanners can help in traffic management by building out a detailed, data-oriented bird’s eye view of road conditions in near real time. Smart infrastructure can alert vehicles to icy road conditions or traffic accidents, for example, allowing drivers to plan alternate routes or detours ahead of time.

City governments can use data gleaned by connected vehicles to better assess the condition of a stretch of highway, and address potholes or damaged guardrails. A number of state and city governments are now trialing smart infrastructure and connected car solutions. In Atlanta, a 2.3 mile “smart corridor” equipped with over 100 IoT-connected sensors, cameras, and devices collecting data and getting a better picture of the efficiency of traffic flow through the corridor. It also includes an artificial intelligence-driven adaptive traffic signal system, which is expected to reduce travel time by up to 25 percent for passengers along the corridor.

Benefits of smart roadway infrastructure

Much of the connected car infrastructure and ecosystem has been designed in increase safety for passengers, reduce travel time and increase fuel efficiency. As technology advances and broadband connectivity continues to expand, more vehicles on the road will be able to communicate with more devices along the road.

Increased road safety: Sensors and cameras installed in vehicles already give drivers a better sense of the surrounding environment while driving on the road. Such features are now considered crucial to road safety by the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) and the European Union (EU). Vehicles that are able to communicate with each other can help prevent accidents by alerting drivers or even by applying brakes automatically if a collision is anticipated. The DOT estimates V2X technologies and smart infrastructure could prevent or reduce the impact of up to 80 percent of accidents involving unimpaired drivers.

Less road accidents could also translate into more healthcare savings. McKinsey estimates that for every person killed in a vehicle accident, eight are hospitalized and 100 are treated at emergency rooms. Reducing accidents could save up to $190 billion in related healthcare costs. The Tampa Hillsborough Expressway Authority trialed connected car use to improve safety in Tampa, Florida, with the DOT. The trial wrapped this year, and data from the pilot is available at the U.S. DOT’s ITS Data Hub.

Decreased traffic: Reducing congestion and improving the flow of traffic is one of the best use cases for smart infrastructure and connected cars. V2I and V2V technologies, coupled with smart corridors and connected roadway infrastructure, can help move traffic more efficiently by monitoring and communicating congestion to drivers, enabling them to take alternate routes and reach their destinations more quickly.

For example, drivers can receive near real-time alerts about upcoming traffic jams, accidents or construction. The more connected cars on the road, and the more smart infrastructure to monitor and communicate to those vehicles, the more efficiently traffic can be managed. Some cities are now using artificial intelligence-based ITS solutions to time lights and manage signage to more efficiently direct traffic and ease or prevent traffic jams.

Increased efficiency: The connected car ecosystem can boost efficiency across many different fields. Reduced congestion and improved traffic flow will not only save drivers more time on their commutes, but will also deliver fuel cost savings and reduce fossil fuel emissions. Smart roadway infrastructure and connected cars could help recoup some of the estimated $87 billion in wasted fuel and productivity that was lost in 2018 due to traffic.

Connected cars can deliver significant cost saving benefits to vehicle fleet companies. Fleet managers can better track internet-connected vehicles, while smart roadway infrastructure can help managers better plan routes and reduce delays, reducing the estimated $33 billion lost in truck operations due to delays. Increased safety on the roadway and a reduction in accidents can also help reduce healthcare costs. Reducing accidents could save up to $190 billion in related healthcare costs.

Supporting driverless cars: Both V2X and smart infrastructure will help make automated driving a reality. Wireless networks along roadways and data transmission between vehicles and other structures will enable driverless vehicles to better interpret the surrounding environment and respond more efficiently to roadway and traffic conditions. In the future, advanced roadway infrastructure might include things such as pavement markings that can be identified by vehicle sensors in adverse weather conditions or traffic lights managed by artificial intelligence systems that can quickly respond to congestion or accidents and reroute traffic.

Real-time data on traffic conditions may also usher in an era of congestion pricing schemes, charging single passenger cars higher rates during rush hour periods to encourage carpooling. Fully automated driverless cars may even help reduce parking space. McKinsey predicts self-parking driverless cars can drop off their passengers at their destinations and then self-park in spaces that are 15 percent tighter because there’s no need for space to open car doors, for example.

Broadband is revolutionizing transportation

Broadband plays a crucial role in the roadway infrastructure revolution. Ubiquitous wireless connectivity, powered by both an increasing penetration of Wi-Fi across smart cities as well as increased cellular connectivity and small cell build outs for 5G, will enable an entirely new way to conceptualize and manage transportation around the world. Broadband serves as a lynchpin for new features, applications and services being developed now for the connected car or smart city ecosystem. Expanding broadband connectivity to highways and roadways and enabling communication between vehicles, drivers and other structures will usher in the new era of smart transportation.

Broadband 2020-2030: Climate Change

Increased broadband deployment could facilitate a 16 percent drop in global transportation emissions

Broadband is playing a key role in the battle against climate change and the transition to a global low-carbon economy. Broadband-enabled technologies, services and applications can help governments, businesses and industries reduce greenhouse gas emissions and improve energy efficiency to help battle climate change and adapt to a warmer climate.

Many global organizations have identified information and communication technologies (ICT) as critical in reshaping the energy-intensive physical infrastructure that defined the 20th century. Expanding broadband and wireless networks are now ushering a new era of flexible, efficient and “smart” infrastructure to curb emissions and reduce waste around the world.

Broadband-enabled virtualization and “dematerialization” of products and services can be leveraged to help separate GDP from greenhouse gas emissions, according to the International Telecommunication Union (ITU). Governments are now exploring coupling broadband-enabled technologies with climate policy to meet sustainability goals while also growing GDP.

Reducing emissions through smart infrastructure

The development and deployment of broadband-powered smart infrastructure across government, enterprise and industrial sectors has the potential to curb greenhouse gas emissions while also improving efficiency. The World Wildlife Federation (WWF) and Ecofys released a report outlining 10 areas in which broadband-enabled ICT could deliver up to one billion metric tons of CO2 reductions through the implementation of smart city planning, deployment of smart grids, building and converting commercial real estate into smart buildings, increased virtualization and other intelligent solutions.

Smart city planning: Local governments can target emissions and energy inefficiency through monitoring and control systems that network infrastructure to respond to the needs of the community. Traffic lights and notification boards can respond to traffic congestion in real time, for example, while monitoring and control systems for city utilities such as water can help improve maintenance and reduce waste.

Smart buildings: ICT can be leveraged in designing, constructing and operating commercial and enterprise buildings more efficiently to reduce the building’s overall carbon footprint. Building management systems (BMS), for example, can monitor and control a building’s heating and cooling systems more efficiently, reduce electricity use by switching off office computers or overhead lights when not in use, or even link buildings to smart grids and distributed energy resources when feasible to reduce carbon emissions. Smart building solutions are particularly apt in North America, which is home to some of the world’s most inefficient buildings and are responsible for a quarter of all global building emissions, according to a 2009 report from The Climate Group and the Global eSustainability Initiative (GeSI).

Smart grids: Broadband technologies are currently being used to increase energy efficiency in electric grid infrastructure around the world. Two-way communication along power lines enables grid operators to better manage their power generation resources, allowing operators to route power more efficiently, reduce the need for excess capacity, and respond in near real time to conditions throughout the grid, such as outages.

Smart grid applications are also being used to integrate renewable energy and distributed energy resources into the grid to reduce carbon emissions. Utilities are now deploying fiber broadband networks alongside power grid lines and deploying smart meters to customers’ homes to collect usage data for demand side management of electricity use. Such management systems automate feedback collection any enable internet-connected appliances such as refrigerators and washing machines to reduce load during peak times. Smart meter data can also be used to incentivize customers to alter their power-consumption behaviors in response to grid conditions, offering incremental efficiency improvements throughout the grid.

Four ways broadband can help fight climate change

Broadband-enabled technologies, applications and services have the potential to play a critical role in our collective response to climate change. Broadband connectivity can help fight climate change in two key areas through smart infrastructure: better monitoring of emissions, and improved efficiencies to decrease emissions. Ubiquitous connectivity networks support data collection from Internet-connected sensors and devices.

High-speed broadband networks support big data analytics in the form of machine learning and artificial intelligence to help glean valuable and actionable insights from that data about our infrastructure and environment, thereby providing us the tools needed to effectively respond to climate change-related challenges such as food insecurity, natural disasters, and inefficient industry processes.

Here are four key areas where broadband technologies can help curb greenhouse gas emissions, improve efficiency and help communities adapt to a warming climate.

Increase food productivity and reduce waste: Agricultural systems around the world are being transformed by wireless technologies and precision agriculture. Food producers are using Internet-connected devices to automate monitoring and control systems for applications such as irrigation and fertilization, seed distribution and harvest, and water quality monitoring and conservation. Battery-powered in-field sensors can deliver droves of data about crops in near real time, enabling food producers to respond quickly to environmental conditions, improve resource management and increase harvest yields. Farmers can also access and integrate high quality meteorological data into planting and harvesting models to reduce resource waste and increase yields. There are a number of case studies of broadband technologies being deployed in agricultural zones to improve food productivity.

China wireless provider China Mobile, for example, has deployed “Rural Communication and Information Networks” to give farmers access to more meteorological and flood and drought data to help them better manage their crops amid challenging conditions; and the Global Humanitarian Forum’s Weather Info for All Initiative has tapped public and private partners to deliver reliable weather data to communities in Africa that are most vulnerable to climate change. The initiative uses mobile networks to deliver weather data collected from across thousands of automatic weather observation stations to farmers directly on their mobile phones.

Improve climate mitigation and resilience among vulnerable communities: Climate change mitigation and adaptation will require governments, industries and communities to reshape many of the systems, processes and structures that we’ve come to rely on during the last century. ICT-enabled sensors, networks and applications collect environmental data that can be used to help communities better prepare and respond to climate changes and natural disasters -- the latter of which are expected to become more frequent as the Earth warms.

Climate data can be leveraged by seaside city planners, for example, to guide decisions around where to expand among rising sea levels. Flood-prone regions can use climate data to understand how best to improve local infrastructure for climate resiliency, while drought-stricken areas can use climate monitoring data to better manage water resources. Local governments can leverage broadband networks to deploy and maintain community-wide energy management systems designed to reduce inefficiencies, and to expand other types of smart infrastructure throughout a community. Several countries have explicitly named broadband as a critical technology for climate change mitigation and natural disaster response.

Reduce traffic congestion and logistics-related emissions: At the community level, Internet-connected traffic lights, notification boards and environmental sensors can help local governments reduce fossil fuel emissions and curb congestion by responding in near real time to traffic conditions on the roads. A 2008 report from Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry estimated that reductions in congestion could result in five percent greenhouse gas emissions. Worldwide, logistics and transportation account for between seven percent and 15 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions and rising, thanks to a largely globalized economy.

Logistics for goods, which includes packaging, shipping products around the world, storage, consumer purchasing and waste, are being revolutionized currently through the use of ICT and broadband-enabled technologies. These tools enable producers to better monitor, optimize and manage operations, resulting in more efficient routing for shipping goods, less fuel consumption, and better asset-tracking to reduce waste. The ITU estimates optimizing logistics using ICT and broadband technologies could result in a 16 percent reduction in transport emissions and a 27 percent reduction in storage emissions globally. Some large shipping companies are now implementing ICT systems to track and reduce logistics-related emissions.

Improve industrial efficiency and emissions: Industrial and manufacturing sectors are some of the largest contributors of greenhouse gas emissions. Multiple studies have shown that implementing ICT and broadband technologies can reduce energy consumption and improve efficiency across industrial sectors. Smart grid applications, for example, can improve efficiencies in the power sector, reduce reliance on carbon-intensive energy sources like coal and integrate renewable energy systems into the grid.

Motor systems, which refer to systems used throughout the industrial sectors that convert electricity into mechanical power, stand to benefit the most from ICT and broadband technologies by improving energy efficiency of these processes and equipment. Such technologies can optimize motor systems by enabling them to respond variably to different load capacities, for example. Increased automation of industrial and manufacturing operations can also make processes more energy efficient. Looking at China’s manufacturing sectors, a 10 percent increase in industrial efficiency through the use of ICT could result in a reduction of up to 200 million metric tons of carbon dioxide annually, according to a 2009 “Smart 2020” report.

Greening the ICT sector

Broadband and ICT systems will play a critical role in transitioning the global economy away from fossil fuel reliance to combat climate change. But broadband-enabled technologies have their own carbon footprints that need to be addressed.

The ITU estimates the ICT industry accounts for between two-and-five percent of total global greenhouse gas emissions. As more sectors of the global economy turn to digital technology to improve operations, ICT-related emissions are growing. However, research indicates ICT systems can deliver more in carbon savings than the sector’s own total emissions. An American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy 2008 study, for example, found that for every kilowatt hour of electricity consumed by ICT, the U.S. increased overall energy savings by a factor of 10.

Most of the emissions from broadband and ICT stem from power consumption, which has spurred device makers and network operators to source electricity from renewable technologies. A number of ICT companies have made pledges around reducing their respective carbon footprints, but experts agree that more needs to be done across industries to effectively combat climate change.

5 Broadband Predictions for 2020

The 2010’s have been nothing short of transformative in the broadband space. Despite disappointing deployment rates across the U.S., the past decade has been a period of exponential change and innovation.

As we look toward the new decade, here are five key predictions based upon current trends and developments in the broadband industry.

5G will be live in all major U.S. cities by the end of 2020

Next generation 5G cellular service is already live in dozens of U.S. cities across multiple carriers, and expansion is likely to explode in 2020 as American infrastructure matures and more devices are released that support the baseband. By the end of the year, it is likely that every major market in the country will have at least one carrier providing commercial 5G services.

Municipal broadband networks will experience a massive surge

Despite numerous roadblocks, community broadband networks have been growing steadily in recent years, and 2020 could be a major tipping point in their development. As the public becomes better acquainted with broadband policy issues thanks to the election cycle and the growing digital disparity, we are seeing that more and more communities are taking matters into their own hands, often with exciting results.

The vast majority of proposed cybersecurity laws in 2020 will not be passed

Despite cybersecurity being one of the most pressing consumer issues faced today, over the past several years most bills intended to help curb the effects of rampant cybercrime have not successfully passed in congress.

As these issues continue to define the internet era, it is unlikely that effective legislation will come to fruition in the new year. Technological progress tends to outpace governance, and until a more agile system is put into place, consumer protections will continue to play catch-up in 2020 and beyond.

Rural broadband connectivity will improve by less than 10 percent in 2020

For all the FCC’s talk about focusing on closing the digital divide in rural America, remarkably little progress has actually been made in the last several years. Each year, millions in rural funding are doled out to help build connectivity out to those who need it most, but the FCC’s latest deployment report shows that more than 21 million residents still lack access to broadband.

Exciting but unproven innovations like low-orbit satellite could shake things up for rural America, but taking stock of where we are now, it is unlikely that anything fundamental will change until private industry is sufficiently incentivized to build out robust connectivity in areas with little hope for an economic return.

The democratic nominee for the 2020 election will release a full-fledged broadband bill to tackle the digital divide

Several candidates have already released broadband infrastructure proposals, including Senator’s Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, two frontrunners for the democratic nomination. Perhaps in this election more than any other, broadband policy is being given its due on both the debate stage and the campaign trail. Whoever wins the nomination will likely make building out broadband internet to all Americans a key proposal leading up to the 2020 election.

Last Updated on 01/15/2020.