State Broadband Initiatives

The Congressional Research Service https://crspreport.congress.gov recently published the report State Broadband Initiatives: Selected State and Local Approaches as Potential Models for Federal Initiatives to Address the Digital Divide.

For example, in New York, the $500 million Broadband Program was established to provide state grant funding through a reverse auction to support projects that will deliver high speed internet across unserved and underserved areas in the state.

The New Mexico Department of Information Technology has announced a new public-private partnership between ExxonMobil, the state of New Mexico, and Plateau Communications, with plans to develop a $5 million fiber network offering advanced broadband to businesses along a 107 mile route.

It can be difficult to build out new broadband infrastructure in certain areas due to terrain or perhaps there is limited or prohibited access to land that is publicly or privately owned. So Arizona’s Smart Highway Corridor program plans to leverage the highway system as a route for broadband infrastructure. Funding for nearly $50 million will enable the Arizona Department of Transportation to install more than 500 miles of broadband along designated highway segments in rural areas of the state.

Communities may find that barriers still exist such as the affordability of broadband, lack of knowledge on benefits, unfamiliarity with digital devices and skills, and lack of training on how to use devices are affecting the adoption of broadband. In 2017, California set up their Broadband Adoption Fund, a $20 million program to assist communities with limited broadband adoption by providing grants to increase publicly available or after school broadband access and to use the funds for digital inclusion.

Pinpointing where broadband is available has been an ongoing challenge since there is difficulty in accurately mapping broadband availability. To improve broadband availability, Georgia passed legislation which seeks to obtain an accurate representation of where broadband connectivity is lacking within the state by developing a database of all premises located within three targeted pilot counties.

It is important to determine broadband access by what is unique to a state or community. So Vermont established a grant program to provide $700,000 to help conduct feasibility studies and also create business plans related to the deployment of broadband in rural, unserved, and underserved areas.

According to NDIA, a nonprofit community engagement organization, reports that the Director of Digital Inclusion is working with the Detroit Department of Innovation and Technology to develop a strategy to expand computer and internet access by developing methods to track and evaluate progress and to identify possible funding options.

The FCC’s definition of broadband is 25/3 Mbps which is sufficient for telecommuting and streaming high definition video. However, higher gigabit speeds may allow for multiple devices to simultaneously access data intensive online content through a single access point.

To meet the need for higher gigabit speeds, the State of North Dakota uses a state run network to provide gigabit access. The Government has produced a 100 gigabit upgrade to STAGEnet, the state’s government’s closed broadband network, to enable one gigabit connectivity to schools and government agencies.

Since some students have a difficult time completing school assignments due to the lack of broadband in their home. As a result, they can have a difficult time completing school assignments. To help these students, a county in western North Carolina piloted the first program to place Wi-Fi on school buses.

The report concludes that whether Congress decides to enact new broadband funding or new initiatives still remains to be seen. However, there is the opportunity for states and local communities to share the lessons learned from their approaches and programs with Congress and/or federal agencies.

Go to https://crsreports.congress.gov/product/pdf/R/R46307 to view the report State Broadband Initiatives: Selected State and Local Approaches as Potential Models for Federal Initiatives to Address the Digital Divide (April 2020).

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