This week, broadband leaders from across the country convened at the Schools, Health and Libraries Broadband Coalition’s annual conference to discuss key broadband policy issues important to communities and community anchor institutions such as schools, hospitals and libraries. NTIA had the opportunity to participate in several sessions at the conference to discuss our continued efforts to implement Obama Administration initiatives aimed at promoting broadband access, adoption and digital inclusion.
We also had the chance to meet with about two dozen officials from 15 states who work on broadband initiatives. The meeting was part of our efforts to keep an ongoing dialogue with state broadband leaders to sustain their peer network as a valuable vehicle for knowledge sharing.
Many of these state officials helped run programs that received funding through NTIA’s State Broadband Initiative (SBI). The SBI grants provided funding to each state, territory and the District of Columbia to collect the broadband availability data that helped power the National Broadband Map. In addition, SBI grantees used some of the funding to identify and address obstacles to broadband deployment and adoption in their states or territories.
While the SBI grant program is finished, 41 of the 56 states and territories that received SBI funding are continuing their state broadband programs in some fashion using their own funds. Several states continue collecting data for their own broadband maps, including Minnesota, Wisconsin, Virginia and Utah.
NTIA is continuing to facilitate coordination and sharing of lessons learned by these states through the State Broadband Leaders Network. The network is an informal group of individuals working in a variety of disciplines at the state level. NTIA brings them together to support collaboration and to share contacts, resources and solutions to extend and improve meaningful broadband service across the nation.
State officials told us about some of the innovative initiatives that grew out of their SBI grants. Kelleigh Cole, who works with Utah’s Broadband Outreach Center in the Governor’s Office of Economic Development, described the importance of building and maintaining provider relationships to promote broadband deployment. To help with this goal, Cole’s office created an Advisory Council, which convenes broadband providers — who are often competitors – to hear directly from communities about areas of need and to ask for support from the state to expand their networks. These conversations often inform state strategy. One such suggestion from a broadband provider gave vital suggestions on how to structure Utah’s Economic Development Map and combine fiber availability with utility information, transportation assets, population statistics and lifestyle features.
And Jeff Sural from North Carolina’s Department of Information Technologydiscussed the multi-agency planning effort his office is leading to develop a statewide broadband plan, which will be published in the next few months. His team surveyed 3,500 leaders, conducted two dozen listening sessions and consulted with 60 experts. Part of their planning includes preparing communities to engage with broadband providers. The state has a traveling team of technical experts to help instruct communities on promoting broadband deployment by aggregating demand and identifying funding opportunities.
NTIA values input from state broadband leaders and other stakeholders and will continue to support their efforts to be resources to each other and to the federal government. These broadband leaders provide an invaluable perspective about what is working and the barriers and gaps that persist at the state and local level. At the same time, we also hope they can serve as an important link to communities that may benefit from the services we offer through our BroadbandUSA program, which offers technical assistance to communities on a range of broadband projects.