America’s Future Depends on Universal Broadband

Communities / Article

Eric Newton is vice president of the journalism program for the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

It’s good that the FCC has put forward the nation’s first real broadband plan. Having a good plan is an essential first step in bringing high-speed Internet access to all Americans ‘ and that is an essential first step in achieving the recommendations of the Knight Commission on the Information Needs of Communities in a Democracy, which argued that people must have digital access to be first-class citizens.

The commission’s report, done with the Aspen Institute, is titled ‘Informing Communities: Sustaining Democracy in the Digital Age.” (You can access it at

It found that in our democratic republic, information is essential to the civic health of communities as good streets or clean water. People need (1) the information itself, (2) access to it and the ability to use it, and (3) ways as communities to engage with the facts we need to improve our collective lives.

The FCC’s plan is a start to the nation taking the issue seriously. Why is it so important? Let’s consider what’s at stake:

In the digital age, countries without high-speed broadband will be left behind, their citizens able to vote but not knowing why they should; able to work but not knowing how to find a job online.

In the past, we grew because we built the railroads and highways we needed to haul people and their physical things across this vast continent. Today, we will not grow unless we build the technology we need to haul our ideas and innovations around the world. Nearly two dozen other nations now rank ahead of the United States in high-speed broadband. That just won’t do.

That’s why Knight Foundation’s President and CEO Alberto Ibarügen says: ‘Broadband access for all is essential to meeting the information needs of communities in a democracy. Without it, we’ll end up with a new category of second-class citizens. With it, everyone will be able to harness the social and economic opportunities of the digital age.’

Digital cities, the connected ones, will be the best environment for local news products, the most interesting laboratories for new ideas, the perfect places to chase the American Dream.