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FCC Workshop on National Broadband Plan: State and Local Governments - Toolkits and Best Practices

FCC Workshop on National Broadband Plan: State and Local Governments - Toolkits and Best Practices

The FCC has been hosting workshops to gather information to aid in the development of a  National Broadband Plan.  On September 1st, state and local telecommunications officials participated in a workshop entitled State and Local Governments:  Toolkits and Best Practices, at which the FCC aimed to learn from the experiences of state and local governments that have proactively addressed broadband deployment and adoption issues in their communities. Some of the topics discussed were: identifying gaps in existing broadband policy, developing necessary infrastructure, securing support from key stakeholders, encouraging adoption, funding broadband initiatives and evaluating the effectiveness of enacted policies.

During the first panel state officials and regulators spoke about specific broadband initiatives their states had undertaken as well as difficulties they faced, and continue to face, in trying to increase access to broadband. Each panelist gave an opening statement and then participated in a question and answer sessionPanelists included Commissioner Ray Baum of the Oregon Public Utilities Commission; Deputy State Chief Information Officer for Colorado John Conley; Charles Ghini, Director, Department of Management Services, Division of Telecommunications, State of Florida; Karen Jackson, Deputy Secretary of Technology, Commonwealth of Virginia; Craig P. Orgeron, Ph.D., Director, Strategic Services Division, Department of Information Technology Services, State of Mississippi; and Jane Patterson, Executive Director, e-NC Authority, State of North Carolina.

Some of the key points highlighted by panelist were the need for faster broadband and the importance of focusing on how broadband can be leveraged across various sectors.  Commissioner Baum from Oregon pointed out that those areas of the country that don't have access to broadband services of at least 10 megabits in the next 5 to 7 years, and the timeline may be sooner, will be as economically disadvantaged as those areas in the first half of the 20th century that didn't have paved highways or electricity.  He also emphasized that we need to ensure policies are structured to involve and not block community needs, are technology neutral and focused on end results such as providing real-time video applications for health care and education institutions and real-time data for public safety institutions.  John Conley from Colorado noted that broadband deployment is critical for governments to retool and creates and fosters more accessibility among citizens to government services.  He also opined that broadband deployment should be and needs to be an underlying topic when we talk about health care and education reform because it will be the infrastructure backbone of how these two major initiatives are brought to citizens.  Karen Jackson from Virginia spoke about the challenge of trying to break down siloed efforts in communities.  She stated that once you are able to assimilate all the assets that are available -- the funding streams, the e-rates, rural health -- and get everybody around the same table, it was much easier to move an initiative forward than it is trying to push it from the top-down.

Throughout the day panelists also spoke a great deal about digital literacy.  Dr. Orgeron said that for Mississippi one of the main issues that needs to be addressed is digital literacy and helping citizens to simply understand what it is that they may even gain access to.  Jane Patterson stated that the mission of North Carolina is that "everyone has the opportunity to learn how to use computers, learn how to get on the Internet and have access to the Internet."  In an effort to achieve this goal the state has tried to make certain that there was a public access center within 40 minutes of every single citizen in the state so that they at least had somewhere to go.  They used the "library system, and then created about a hundred other public access centers and at those centers, anyone coming in could get access to some training."  She also explained that since 1993 North Carolina has had a type of K-12 digital literacy program.  There is a curriculum starting in kindergarten through the seventh grade, and then in the seventh grade students are able to start taking a test, which they have to pass to get a high school diploma. If they don't pass the test they get a certificate but not a diploma.  The goal behind this was to get students to be able to use computers for decision making in high school and as a work force investment idea. 

Karen Jackson said that Virginia has done programs in conjunction with community colleges and 4-year colleges, one of which has been providing e-commerce existence for small businesses.  Charles Ghini stressed that based on Florida's experience he thinks that if you don't have an holistic approach and you don't have the statewide vision, you're increasing your chances for failure.  

Some of the biggest challenges or hardest issues the states have faced:  Presenters touched upon some of the hardest issues they face in trying to increase broadband access and adoption.  Some of the issues mentioned were gaining access to accurate data about broadband in their states, USF reform,  and ensuring broadband is deployed in all socioeconomic areas of urban communities.

For a transcript of the entire workshop click here.

The second panel included municipal and county-level officials.  For a summary of that panel click here, for a transcript or recording of that panel click here.

Resources:
Broadband.Gov - Workshop: State and Local Governments: Toolkits and Best Practices (You can download a recording and the transcript of both panels from this site.)
Benton Foundation - How State and Local Governments are Addressing Broadband Deployment and Adoption
e-NC Authority
Virginia's Community Broadband Tool-Kit