When it first came onto the scene 30 years ago, many of us had no idea the internet would grow from sharing data between institutions to creating such an immersive and connected digital world.
Connectivity and communication have become so ubiquitous that many broadband trends today are flying under the radar. It seems people tend to forget that everything we do on mobile devices wirelessly feeds into the wireline network. The stronger the wireline network, the better the wireless experience, and broadband is at the heart of that. We’ve come a long way, but where broadband is headed will change everything.
1. PEAK GOVERNMENT SPENDING
In response to pressing consumer requirements, the government is investing more than ever in broadband. Through the 2020 Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, states have already been making use of funds to improve broadband infrastructure. The 2021 Consolidated Appropriations Act built on that with another $7 billion in targeted broadband development.
Then, the 2021 Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act came in with another $65 billion commitment toward providing every American home with broadband. Much of this funding focuses on making broadband more affordable in underserved areas and building out networks in rural and tribal lands. Soon, this funding will start taking effect, so everyone interested—businesses and individuals alike—should stay on top of this and take advantage of the benefits.
2. CLOSING THE DIGITAL DIVIDE
COVID-19 lockdowns drove work, school, and medical care remote, highlighting the serious disadvantages of life without broadband. Still, if one good thing came from the pandemic, it was the rate at which it required us to solve problems at top speed. It would have otherwise been a long, slow process waiting for the government and private investors to align around addressing and closing the digital divide. The gap would have stretched wider until it reached its breaking point, either through economic loss or cultural division, but the pandemic focused our efforts on closing it fast.
I used to get upset with my kids for only communicating through text messages or social media and said they would lose their ability to talk to others in person, but then I realized no one was losing anything. These new tools make connecting easier for more people, offering somewhere for people of all races, genders, and economic positions to talk to and learn from each other. When we close the digital divide and give everyone access to these modes of communication, people can better get to know one another as equals.
3. ENRICHED EDUCATION
Beyond distance learning and online schools, broadband can enable better digital experiences. These days, no one needs to go to the Louvre to see what’s in the Louvre—they can go on a virtual field trip. Of course, the experience of being there in person is different, but one day, it may not be.
As downstream and upstream broadband capabilities improve, a visit to a website will go from staring at a fixed page to something more dynamic. Soon, it could be a video-based experience that lets you see things independently as you move through digital space, making it feel like you’re genuinely there. The internet has already greatly enriched our education and ability to learn, and with higher speed broadband, it can take us further.
4. HEALTH CARE AS AN EVERYDAY PRACTICE
When we talk about how broadband will transform medical health, the discussion should go beyond its ability to improve major medical procedures like surgeries and also talk about how simple everyday health care can become. Not only does telemedicine increase the opportunity for everyone to have medical care, but it can also reduce the cost of delivering that care.
The cost structure of our medical environment isn’t set up to deal with day-to-day health: checking a cold, dealing with a rash, or struggling with a sore joint or muscle. Going in for a doctor visit for every concern would become very expensive, and doctors would end up with less time to handle life-threatening conditions. By separating in-person needs from the needs medical professionals can address through a telemedicine visit, broadband can reduce the cost of everyday health for everyone.
5. NEW WAYS TO THINK ABOUT TRANSPORTATION
As broadband enables everyone around the world to shop online, people with an entrepreneurial spirit will see the holes in the transportation system and develop solutions. Between FedEx, UPS, and the post office, I see three or four trucks go by my house every day. And like those of many Americans, my husband’s shopping habits produce a lot of cardboard.
It’s clear broadband and the rise of online shopping have introduced the need for transportation to change, but it can also facilitate it. Already, companies are investing in drone services to reduce time, delivery costs, and emissions from large delivery vehicles, and progress in high-speed broadband can enable more widespread use. Once drones become more popular, engineers can work with developers to dream up more efficient alternatives to packaging and drone use, reducing the influx of cardboard delivered to our homes and creating delivery services we have yet to imagine.
Broadband infrastructure is more than being able to sit at your computer or work on your phone; it’s about building a global community and a stated intention to communicate with each other better. As broadband opens more economic opportunities and levels the playing field across more of the globe, we can become more mindful of the experiences of others and can address more of our cultural challenges.
Communication makes people and their situations more visible, and the more people can see and understand one another, the less they may conflict. With the economic means and improved communication in place, the world can become a clearer, better place.
Cheri Beranek is the President and CEO of Clearfield, providing optical-fiber management and connectivity solutions across North America.