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91% of local government leaders consider internet access critical to economic growth.
U.S. Municipal Infrastructure Index

The COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated many of this country’s preexisting inequalities, especially for the more than 20 million rural Americans without access to reliable broadband internet.  Students in communities across America were left behind during remote learning. There was unequal access to the growing use of telehealth. And the ability to work from home was all too unreliable in too many parts of our country.

In a year when the world embraced digital transformation at an expedited rate, those rural Americans – many in the agricultural industry that serve as the backbone of our nation’s food supply chain – were left with patchy or no coverage.  That’s unacceptable.

At Cisco, we support the effort to expand broadband that is being included in the bipartisan infrastructure framework working its way through Congress, and we are committed to doing our part to bridge the digital divide.  Just as important as roads and bridges is the network of broadband, Wi-Fi and 5G that will power American competitiveness and close the digital divide. This is the moment to build the network of the future – and ensure that we’re not leaving anyone behind.

It’s Agreed – Broadband is Critical Infrastructure

Today, Cisco released the U.S. Municipal Infrastructure Index, a nation-wide survey of city, county, town and tribal government leaders. The findings are clear: an overwhelming majority agree that broadband is “critical infrastructure” and placed essential upgrades in the top tier of their must-do projects in their locales. We found:

  • 94% said broadband is a crucial element of infrastructure for “having a well-educated and informed public;”
  • 91% considered internet access “critical to future economic growth in our community;
  • 80% said they consider broadband to be “critical infrastructure;
  • 70% said they have “shovel-ready” infrastructure projects that could be started if funding became available.

Needed Investments to Power an Inclusive Future 

As the country embarks on the recovery phase of the COVID-19 pandemic, the federal government has an opportunity to provide broadband for all by investing in rural broadband infrastructure. That’s why I was proud to speak with Members of Congress while I was in Washington last month. We’re committed to working with our government partners to close the digital divide.

The Biden Administration has taken the first step by announcing tens of billions in government investment to deploy broadband throughout America as a part of the American Jobs Plan. This pledge marks an important early step.

Of course, the bipartisan infrastructure framework working its way through Congress would provide unprecedented support to Americans most in need of broadband. I’m pleased that both Democrats and Republicans have embraced broadband as a vital part of America’s infrastructure. Cisco stands in support of this crucial funding that will go a long way to close the digital divide and provide more Americans with the ability to access critical public services and employment opportunities.

Powering a Recovery that’s Inclusive

This recovery is the ideal moment to finally bridge the digital divide. We have the will. Funding proposals are unprecedented. But what about the technology itself?

As the innovators of mass-scale infrastructure solutions, we know we can do our part by building technology that changes the economics of the internet, ultimately lowering costs and making reliable connectivity more accessible to everyone. Our service provider customers tell us that for every dollar they spend to build their infrastructure, they’re spending five dollars to operate it. So we are focused on creating technology that lowers the cost of what it takes to build and run the internet.

This week, we held a virtual ribbon cutting opening Cisco’s Rural Broadband Innovation Center, a $20 million strategic investment that showcases these innovative technologies. Funded through our Country Digital Acceleration program, the center reinforces the importance of bridging the gap between commercial viability of technology solutions offered by service providers and the cost of serving rural Americans.

Our CEO Chuck Robbins hosted the virtual ribbon cutting and facilitated a thoughtful discussion about how technology innovators, service providers and government must work together. As North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper said, “a comprehensive problem requires a comprehensive solution.”

FCC Commissioner Geoffrey Starks reminded us that, “Every American should have high quality, affordable broadband, period. There are tens of millions of Americans without that internet access that are counting on each of us – whether it’s state, federal, industry, or private partnerships – to work together to fight for that more vibrant, inclusive broadband marketplace.”

Cisco will continue to help service providers connect, secure, and automate their networks to deliver essential connectivity with dramatically reduced investments making it easier to expand broadband access and ensure that rural Americans can securely access the economic, educational, and health opportunities they need.

It’s imperative that America builds back better by providing broadband access to all Americans. Investments in rural broadband are overdue. We will do our part.