City planners spend much of their time on essentials like roads, sewage and transportation. But they're increasingly looking to add broadband services into that mix, according to a new survey of 101 local and regional government executives and managers conducted by Probolsky Research and touted by networking equipment vendor Cisco.
The firm said more than 80% of those survey respondents listed broadband as "critical infrastructure" and placed connectivity improvements and upgrades near the top of their priority project list.
"The feedback from these government leaders underscored the pressing need to close the digital divide and improve broadband technology countrywide," Cisco wrote in a report (PDF) summarizing the findings. "The data also supports the assumption that the worldwide pandemic made high-speed Internet and reliable connectivity crucial for every business, home, and government agency across the nation."
Among the survey's other findings:
- 94% said broadband is crucial for educated, informed citizens
- 51% of of communities have plans to increase the use of technology to modernize infrastructure
- 91% believe Internet access is critical to future economic growth
To highlight its findings, Cisco hosted a virtual event this week featuring Antoinette Meier, director of mobility and innovation for the San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG), and Eugene Mejia, deputy CTO of the town of Gilbert, Arizona. They both spoke about the need for reliable, high-speed broadband services.
The company's survey findings are notable given some of the broader trends in the telecom market stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic. For example, President Biden's broadband infrastructure plan specifically mentions financing community-operated municipal networks. It calls for "lifting barriers that prevent municipally-owned or affiliated providers and rural electric co-ops from competing on an even playing field with private providers."
And that trend is moving forward on the state level. For example, California Governor Gavin Newsom signed a $6 billion broadband bill Tuesday that, among other things, will fund construction of a state-owned fiber network.
Such movements have created concerns among telecom operators fretting over competition with city-funded broadband services.
To overcome that issue, Cisco recommends public-private partnerships between cities and telecom network operators. The company said 57% of its survey respondents agreed that communities need public-private partnerships "to accomplish needed infrastructure projects." But it said that 48% of those respondents do not have those arrangements in place.
"More than two-thirds of urban areas, where public-private partnerships are more common, indicated this funding mechanism is in place in their cities," Cisco wrote in its report.
— Mike Dano, Editorial Director, 5G & Mobile Strategies, Light Reading | @mikeddano