Speaking to a group in NY, Christopher Ali gave some recommendations to help with a pandemic tech plan that included digital equity…
- A local-first approach
- A local-first approach means a policy apparatus that encourages local digital champions through training and communication. It means acting as a resource for local communities, not just for funding, but for planning, advice, and communication. It can also mean creating certification programs, like the Telecommuter Forward! program in Wisconsin that recognizes communities with broadband infrastructure capable of supporting telecommuting.
- An “all-hands-on-deck” approach
- This means encouraging small ISPs and municipal projects. There is some controversy here, as New York City has recently received pushback for its $2 billion Internet Master Plan which includes a substantial municipal investment. Many detractors point to a so-called failed municipal project in Bristol, Virginia, but there are also hundreds of successful municipal broadband projects across the country. Solving the digital divide means embracing all options and stakeholders, including public options and public- private partnerships.
- “Access” means more than just infrastructure. Access means digital inclusion.
- This means thinking about plans for affordability, and digital literacy and skills development.
- Policies must be data driven
- New York State should consider state-wide data collection processes to augment FCC data. Crowdsourcing data is a phenomenal tool in our toolbox. Here, I look to the work of Measurement Lab and Professor Sascha Meinrath at Penn State University. Working together with millions of crowdsourced data points, Professor Meinrath demonstrated how the FCC’s broadband map was wrong by upwards of 50% throughout all of Pennsylvania.
- In addition to the quantitative data, qualitative data should also be gathered. One of my most powerful learning experiences about broadband was participating in a community listening session with Representative Abigail Spanberger in Louisa County, Virginia. I heard stories of community members frustrated over their lack of connectivity, stories of an inability to work because of slow internet speeds, and an inability to sell one’s home because of the undesirability of a home without high-speed internet. These are powerful stories, and I would highly recommend this Commission hear the stories of those unconnected.
- Adopting aggressive, future-oriented goals
- We should be planning for tomorrow, not trying to meet the connection speeds of 2015. This means being technologically neutral, but not technologically blind. Both New York and Minnesota, for instance, designate a community as “underserved” when connectivity is below 100mbps download/20 mbps upload speeds. Jon Sallet, whom I’ve already cited, recommends 100/100 as a baseline in his Benton Institute for Broadband & Society report Broadband for America’s Future: A Vision for the 2020s. Policies need to be ambitious and aggressive and need to compel providers to anticipate the broadband needs of communities in the years to come.
And in the midst of his speech, he mentions Minnesota…
Minnesota is also a national leader in state broadband policies, not necessarily because of the level of public funding, but because of the its scope and scale. Minnesota’s Broadband Office operates not only as a grantor of funds, but as a clearinghouse of information and as a trusted advisor to communities working on cataloguing their broadband needs.
Pew Research released a report in February 2020 highlighting best practices for state broadband plans, and among their recommendations was a broadband office that does what Minnesota does – communicates, coordinates, plans, and funds. Other important best practices for states include setting forward-looking goals and rallying stakeholders around these goals; supporting broadband planning on a regional and municipal level; engaging local digital champions; providing tools for community planning; promoting broadband adoption and digital literacy; championing small providers; collecting data from grantees; and one of my favorites, creating certificate programs for communities that reach certain connectivity thresholds, such as for telework.
Minnesota does do a good job – but part of doing a good job is keeping on top of things. With that in mind and based on my conversation with folks in Chisago County yesterday, I’m encourage an update on some of our goals. COVID is big enough to push a greater need sooner than 25/3 by 2022 and 100/20 by 2026.