Building broadband networks usually requires lots of cooperation among several different entities. Before a rural electric or telephone company (or possibly both in partnership) can begin laying down fiber or building wireless towers, the chances are they will have spent considerable time dealing with state and local government to check financing options and understand the relevant regulations.
The Pew Charitable Trusts has created the State Broadband Policy Explorer, an online tool that allows rural providers to quickly search the many funding programs as well as laws and regulations regarding competition, permitting, rules and rights of way in all 50 states. The tool tracks broadband-related documents created between the years 1991 and 2018 searchable by state or category. Every state’s rules are different, which makes a searchable tool handy in some situations.
“Some states have a centralized office responsible for managing or coordinating broadband efforts,” Pew says in a white paper introducing the Explorer. “In others, multiple agencies have jurisdiction over broadband. States have written plans, created maps, or identified goals and funding mechanisms for their broadband work; some have almost all of these, while others have few or none.”
For example, at the federal level the FCC in 2019 has declared that its definition of “broadband” for all essential policy purposes is now 25 Mbps downstream/5 Mbps upstream. But many states, for various reasons, continue to carry much slower speed benchmarks on their books. A quick category search shows that Indiana in 2018 was the last state to update its definition of “broadband service.” It includes “services, including voice, video, and data, that provide capacity for transmission of more than 384 kilobits per second in at least one direction regardless of the technology or medium used, including wireless, copper wire, fiber optic cable, or coaxial cable.”
The Explorer also includes a quick search to find changes to 23 broadband funding programs in eight states in 2018. The state of Missouri, for example, made seven different changes to its broadband fund regulations last year.
State legislatures have made several more changes to their policies in 2019, especially policies meant to encourage rural electric cooperatives to begin providing broadband service. Those changes do not yet appear on the tool.