“The Broadband Imperative” was a well-attended and aptly named session at this week’s NASCIO Midyear event, providing even more evidence of the growing importance of connectivity for all highlighted last year. Data from the NASCIO survey also supports this claim: Its registration in 2021 with state information officials revealed a ranking of No. 4 for broadband and wireless connectivity, down from No. 9 in 2020. ” Broadband has moved up the list considerably, with a lot of priority and the resources allocated to it, ”said Georgia IT director Calvin Rhodes in a session earlier in the week.
That same survey found that three in four CIOs are involved in broadband efforts in their state, but the specifics of their involvement vary widely. Colorado CIO Tony Neal-Graves, Minnesota CIO Tarek Tomes and Scott Adams, deputy director of broadband and digital literacy in California, joined Tom Curtin of the National Governors Association for an overview of the responsibility for broadband in each state and the current situation.
At work for about a month, Adams of California reports to State CIO Amy Tong, who heads the California Department of Technology. It “manages the ecosystem” of stakeholders involved in advancing connectivity in the state, which includes a 12-member council established in 2010 and chaired by Tong. The group, charged with promoting broadband in unserved and underserved areas of the state, is represented by the Public Services Commission, the Department of Education, the Office of Emergency Services and other agencies. . Governor Gavin Newsom issued a broadband executive order last August, adding new urgency to connectivity efforts, directing state agencies to expand availability to 100 megabits per second for all Californians.
In Minnesota, broadband efforts are housed within the Department of Employment and Economic Development, Tomes explained, given the inextricable link between access to connectivity and the state’s overall economic health. “[Having] broadband in economic development is ideal because the link between what’s going on in the economy and broadband access is so closely linked, ”he said. Minnesota IT Services, led by Tomes, manages MNET, the Minnesota Network for Business Telecommunications, a statewide network that provides connectivity to state agencies, communities, schools and institutions health care.
Tony Neal-Graves became the state’s CIO last September after several years as executive director of the Colorado Broadband Office. In 2019, they moved on to formalize the office’s relations with state agencies. At this point, a public advisory committee has been established, which includes representatives from industry, local officials and heads of state agencies. This type of broad collaboration was hailed by all three panelists as a critical part of successful broadband efforts.
ACCESS TO CAPITAL
All three panelists made it clear that without funding, the best intentions of getting everyone online cannot be successful. This month, California Gov. Gavin Newsom called for a $ 7 billion broadband investment, of which $ 500 million, Adams says, will be used to help local governments secure private funding for local communities. networks, and a one-time federal injection of funding will help incentivize Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to provide last mile coverage in underserved areas. To best help determine where all of this money will be best spent, the Governor’s Office of Economic and Business Development helps small organizations determine their financial needs.
In Minnesota, Tomes described the “border-to-border subsidy program.” Established in 2013, Tomes said it has supported more than $ 120 million in broadband development in the state. He also pointed out that the Minnesota Broadband Task Force was important in getting an overview of which funding opportunities will work best for which part of the state.
Colorado has spent nearly $ 106 million over the past five years on grants for mid- and last-mile efforts, Neal-Graves said. The new legislation coming out this year will provide an additional $ 74 million and not only support the expansion of the infrastructure that brings fiber to homes, but will also pivot the state towards solving associated problems, such as digital literacy and access to tools like enough computers in a home to maximize what citizens can do with this broadband connection.
Of course, it doesn’t matter how many grants are available if organizations or governments don’t know how to apply. Neal-Graves explained that while they are starting to see the impacts of broadband subsidies from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the FCC, Colorado realized early on that small providers do not. also did not know how to navigate the complex process of applying for federal funding. grants or they did not have the resources to do so. To help resolve the issue, the state appointed a staff member to be its “federal expert,” providing much-needed support for the grant application.
“My mantra was ‘Let’s get our unfair share of the money,’” said Neal-Graves, stressing that you don’t have a chance to win funding you never ask for.
When asked what the best thing his state has done to advance the Broadband for All Directive, Neal-Graves said the most useful thing he found was to get the buy-in from local communities.
“It’s a classic ‘you need a village’,” he said. “It’s great that the federal government is providing more funding now, but if you don’t have the commitment at the local level, it is extremely difficult to provide solutions to these communities.
He explained that Colorado has a plan in place to specifically strengthen that commitment. The state puts in 50 percent of the money and the locality must do the same. The state provides support for the development of the strategy and the state can help the community manage the system, but ownership must lie at the community level. Developing the “passion” for the project at the local level will then potentially reduce the cost for ISPs to consider deploying last mile services, Neal-Graves said.
“There is not just one state plan,” he said. “There is a plan based on the needs of your community and whatever structure you have in place.”
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