Over two decades into the new millennium, every industry relies on computing, cloud storage, 5G Broadband, or other digital equipment to sell goods and services, while people’s individual lives often orbit around the Internet, whether at home, at work, or on the move.
Because of this new reliance on digital technology and the internet, expanding access to broadband has become critical.
The term broadband commonly refers to high-speed Internet access that is always on and faster than the traditional dial-up access, while the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) defines broadband internet as a minimum of 25 megabits per second (Mbps) download speed and 3 Mbps upload speed. In terms of economic outcomes, broadband delivers benefits to both individuals, communities, and even organizations.
For most Americans, broadband is commonplace in professional, personal, and social interactions, but overall, independent research by groups such as Broadband Now suggests 42 million Americans are without broadband access.
Broadband is so influential on society that we now call it essential infrastructure, as its applications are so far-reaching that these physical networks, directly and indirectly, affect a wide range of conditions that impact health and life outcomes for nearly everyone.
Despite its importance, broadband is still far from ubiquitous, with millions of households not having access to high-speed wireline or wireless services, and the reason for this more often than not comes down to a lack of income.
Most regions of the U.S. receive broadband from private sector internet service providers (ISPs) like Verizon and Xfinity. In sparsely populated areas, however, the returns to internet investment from user fees aren’t enough to cover private providers’ costs of building out their networks, an issue commonly known as the “last mile” problem.
On top of this, when mobile operators use internet metering, a service model in which bandwidth use is tracked, and high traffic is charged accordingly. Practices like this also hinder the ability of low-income families in both urban and rural regions to access broadband.
We are seeing progress.
For example, on April 20th, 2020, the FCC announced an auction to re-allocate the Educational Broadband Service (EBS) spectrum along and issue new licenses, as well as changing the requirements for licensees and dropping rules requiring educational use for this spectrum.
A year later, the FCC announced a similar auction, but for the Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS) spectrum.
Broadband is an increasingly important tool for everything from education to employment opportunities, and holding these auctions is a good start to expanding broadband access. However, federal policymakers can also use this opportunity to seek to remove regulatory barriers that could deter deployment and ensure programs that address barriers to adoption are properly accessible to both qualifying individuals and those wishing to provide service.
With the expansion of broadband thanks in part to these types of auctions, industries across sectors are now looking into the possibilities that become available when leveraging high-speed broadband.
One industry that can benefit greatly from the adoption of broadband internet is the manufacturing industry.
When it comes to broadband in manufacturing, or industry 4.0, companies are fostering digital technologies to enhance, automate, and modernize the whole process.
Internet of Things (IoT) and Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) networks – the life blood of Industry 4.0, connect intelligent devices that communicate data to a central system to make sense of and manage entire systems.
These networks consist of connected edge devices, terminals, and machines across an enterprise, and when connected to the cloud, dramatically change the game as multiple factory real time data can be pulled into a unified domain where analytics – including AI and Machine Learning-based applications – make it possible to optimize beyond what we could have imagined only a decade ago.
Using these devices, manufacturers can take advantage of not just “a smart factory” but an entire global domain across “all smart factories.”
IoT and IIoT enable machines and endpoints to automatically communicate operational information to personnel both inside and peripheral to an organization. That includes machine operators, managers, field service personnel, and even partners like suppliers, subcontractors, and OEMs.
This connectivity delivers mission-critical data and information to operation managers and factory leadership on-site and out-of-office.
The power to control operations and manage factory activity on a remote level increases opportunities for process optimization and automation.
Here in the U.S., manufacturers can now leverage faster broadband supporting these beneficial programs even in the most rural areas.
We can accelerate this with common sense financial support from the government, along with private/public partnerships.
We can help American manufacturers become more competitive – creating jobs and building local economies.
The connected factory improves nearly every aspect of a factory, from keeping a safe and secure environment to predictive forecasting to even energy and operational efficiency.
Shop floors now routinely include sensors, machine monitoring, and other digital tools and platforms, allowing manufacturers to unlock new levels of efficiency and transparency in their operations.
The need for broadband access in manufacturing isn’t going to die down anytime, as the digital transformation in the manufacturing market was valued at USD 263.93 billion in 2020 and is expected to reach USD 767.82 billion by 2026 and work at a CAGR of 19.48% over the forecast period 2021-2026.
Access to high-speed broadband is just as important for the manufacturing industry as it is for other organizations and individuals alike.
The Covid-19 infrastructure bill allocated $65 billion for broadband, the largest single investment in broadband expansion in decades.
The bill puts nearly equal focus on addressing affordability, which will likely bring internet to significantly more Americans than could building out networks to rural areas alone, but changes still need to be made to ensure broadband access for everyone from individuals to industries.
Barriers to the adoption of new technologies including lack of access to high-speed broadband services across the U.S. have created significant challenges in individual and community outcomes – until now.
The faster we can remove these barriers, the faster individuals and industries like manufacturing can reap the benefits of high-speed broadband and the applications networking supports, creating quality jobs, making America less dependent, reversing negative impacts to the environment, and bringing prosperity that drives more prosperity in every community – here and around the world.
This is the kind of legacy we can all be part of, and a game changing moment for industrial innovation and societal progress.