January 24, 2013

How Can Communities Plan for Broadband

CHICAGO — Fast Internet access is not a guarantee for every American. Planning and Broadband: Infrastructure, Policy, and Sustainability is a report from the American Planning Association that examines how communities can integrate broadband into planning efforts to increase connectivity.

A report from the Federal Communications Commission found that approximately 19 million Americans do not have access to broadband. And according to the Planning and Broadband report authors, the U.S. ranks 12th in broadband access and 15th in broadband speed compared with other nations. In a time where education, commerce, even entertainment is available online, cities and towns must incorporate broadband access into their planning efforts.

Planning and Broadband report was written by Kathleen McMahon, AICP, founding member and past president of the Rural Communications Congress, with Ronald L. Thomas, FAICP, retired executive director of the Northeastern Illinois Planning Commission, and Charles Kaylor, visiting assistant professor in the Department of Geography and Urban Studies at Temple University. It stresses that planners can and should begin to actively engage in planning our broadband infrastructure future in seven different ways: 

  • Including broadband infrastructure as a basic planning component.
  • Conducting broadband mapping — knowing the "what" and "where" of connectivity is a growing public need.
  • Increasing bandwidth demands. New standards are needed to facilitate large-scale data sharing.
  • Mapping broadband locations and wireless coverage.
  • Using social networking as an information resource.
  • Forging public/private partnerships. Both public and private partners need to work together in striving for universal broadband connectivity.
  • Maximizing the generated benefits from private development resulting from public funding for infrastructure.

Planning and Broadband emphasizes that planners need to incorporate broadband initiatives into comprehensive plans. The report also provides guidance on how planners can work with telecommunications professionals. Using the telecommunications industry's "layers" model provides easily identifiable opportunities for planners and telecommunications professionals to work together.

How do you determine if your community is ready for a broadband plan? The authors offer these questions to consider:

  • What is the level of stakeholder engagement? Successful plans tend to have wide stakeholder engagement.
  • Is there an existing community broadband plan such as a communications or technology master plan?
  • Where is broadband currently available in the community?
  • Who is unserved or underserved: businesses, people, institutions?
  • Who is currently using broadband and how?
  • Who will use broadband in the future and how?
  • What efforts are being made to meet local needs now, and what efforts could be made?

"We are becoming a networked society in a networked nation, in a networked world," said McMahon. "The availability, capacity, and performance of the supporting network infrastructure must operate at the highest possible capacity and be accessible to everyone, everywhere, all the time."

The authors stress that innovations, through new trends, and initiatives are crucial. Throughout the report, case studies offer examples of how communities have improved broadband access and speed, including ConnectKentucky; Chattanooga, Tennessee; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; OpenCape; and Dublin, Ohio.  


Roberta Rewers, APA Public Affairs; 312-786-6395; rrewers@planning.org