Editor’s note: Longtime broadband advocate and former FCC official Blair Levin wrote the forward to the “Leaping Digital Divide” report published this week by the NC  League of Municipalities calling for changes in broadband policy across North Carolina.He now is Senior Fellow of the Metropolitan Policy Project Brookings Institute. An excerpt of his blog follows:

Blair Levin

When the United States Congress, in 2009, told the Federal Communications Commission to write a National Broadband Plan, some objected, arguing that broadband had and should continue to evolve solely on the basis of private market forces. As a matter of history, that contention was flawed, as the development of all communications networks involved significant government action, including, among others, monopoly franchises,
rights of way and pole access, universal service support, spectrum allocations, and intellectual property rights. The argument was also wrong as a prediction.

As the plan itself demonstrated, and as current debates over questions ranging from network neutrality to small cell deployment to the national security implications of 5G network deployment prove today, the public has both an interest and an economic stake in how these networks develop.

While broadband has been primarily funded by private sector resources, it produces a number of public benefits. Indeed, the public benefits are so substantial that communities who lack good broadband will soon find themselves without the staple resources to thrive in this century. Consider, for example, a recent study in which more than 90 percent of respondents identified quality broadband as “very important” in choosing a community in which to live — second only to “safe streets.”

On this, popular opinion is right. The benefits flowing from broadband to the public include:

Economic growth and better jobs.

A 2014 study showed that 14 communities with widely available gigabit access enjoy per capita GDP that is 1.1 percent higher than similar communities with little to no availability of gigabit services, enjoying approximately $1.4 billion in additional GDP.
Conversely, the 41 communities studied without gigabit broadband experienced forgone GDP of as much as $3.3 billion. Another study concluded that it is particularly important for the fast growing segment of home businesses, where fiber averages about $73,000 in revenues, significantly higher than slower cable connected homes with $43,000.

Increased property values.

High speed broadband has been shown to add nearly $10,000 in value to a $300,000 single-family residence. It is the number one amenity sought by multi-dwelling unit homeowners and the number two amenity sought in single-family homes.

Lower prices for broadband services.

Where gigabit service is introduced, the cost of slower tiers drops significantly. When gigabit is available, tiers of 100 Mbps or faster drop in price by as much as $27, while pricing for the lower-priced 25 Mbps service decreases between $13 and $18 monthly. And when prices go down, so does the digital divide, as affordability goes up for every level of service. These are far from the only benefits. Next generation networks also enable communities to enjoy all kinds of next generation education, health, and public safety-related services. Those services, and indeed all services in the economy, are going to become more and more dependent on data and, therefore, networks that move data quickly.

Bottom line: If a community wants to thrive in the economy and society of the decades to come, it needs a network capable of carrying that kind of traffic. There is no silver bullet that works for every community. But there is a bullet that can kill every community — doing nothing.