How State and Local Governments are Addressing Broadband Deployment and Adoption

How State and Local Governments are
Addressing Broadband Deployment and Adoption

On September 1, state and local telecommunications officials gathered at the Federal Communications Commission to discuss their roles in a National Broadband Plan. The FCC wanted to hear from state and local governments that have proactively addressed broadband deployment and adoption issues in their communities. On the table for discussion: 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.

The first panel focused on the experiences of state officials and regulators.

Oregon Public Utilities Commissioner Ray Baum said that schools, hospitals and government agencies need broadband at bandwidth of 10 megabits or more. FCC, he urged, must aggregate the best data on broadband availability for the states so that they can move ahead.

John Conley -- the Deputy State Chief Information Officer for Colorado -- said the conversation around broadband is timely and that it is critical for government to re-tool and help citizens gain access -- critical for healthcare and Education reform, for example.

Charles Ghini, from Florida's Division of Telecommunications, said his state is forming strong private to private partnerships and trying to acquire competitive services to sell to their customers.

Dr. Craig Orgeron -- the Director of the Strategic Services Division in Mississippi's Department of Information Technology -- noted that his state is often at bottom of most lists of broadband deployment and use rankings.

e-NC Authority Executive Director Jane Patterson urged the FCC to include broadband as a service subsidized for low income consumers.


Q1 - Who has address-level data and can we see it?

Patterson said that, in some places, that data has not been disclosed. Virginia's Karen Jackson warned that the smaller the provider, the less granular the data. Florida's Charles Ghini said his state does not have that data. Conley said Colorad does not have it either. Commissioner Baum said that if you leave data collection to the states, only about a dozen will get it right. FCC needs to continue negotiation with the carriers and push envelope as far as possible. Feds will need to get the appropriate information. Leverage here only comes with certain mergers, feds will need to create the leverage.

Q2 - Mentioned Digital Literacy...1) How do you measure a successful digital literacy program? 2) What would your role be in the program?

Orgeron said that metrics, quantifiable data, and measurements most important. Mississippi is instituting these programs in all 82 of its counties. Patterson said North Carolina has tried to develop -- at local, county-level -- organization to have public computer centers available. Each county group made their own plans for their own needs.

Q3 - Do any Digital Literacy programs account for the cost of the connection in the home?

Patterson said North Carolina tried to have a public access center within 40 minutes of every home. Ghini said Florida tried a digital literacy program, but it is not sustainable. Conley suggested the federal government needs to become an aggregator of best practices for these programs. Baum said that the Universal Service Fund must be revamped to subsidize broadband delpoyment and subscriptions for the system to be sustainable. Virginia'a Deputy Secretary of Technology Jackson said she found digital literacy problem with rural health providers and businesses and has done many general education programs for everyone. Colleges have been providing E-Commerce assistance to businesses for 10 years. Now mapping e-commerce and healthcare uses in order to track metrics over time.

Q4 - Targeted to Virginia - on the supply side. Explain how states and local governments share in the cost.

Jackson noted that her charts shows difference between costs quoted by a private provider. By going through toolkit they were able to leverage some towers, waive rents prepaid telecom expenses and created upfront capital - found out grants coming in for fist responders. Conley said states need to look at all assets open to them. The federal government, he said, needs to act in a uniform way and allow states to use assets purchased through other grant programs. The Department of Transportation has a lot of fiber along highways. The Department of Homeland Security grants for public safety can be shared. Jackson noted that Congress required state police to allow wireless ISPs onto their towers. Patterson said North Carolina has given money of its own to providers through bids. They have funded for-profit providers to work with non-profits on a fiber sheath in order to maintain it. Small wireless provider can come and use the sheaths at a discount.

Q5 - Examples of what it's like to coordinate deployment with the federal government, a provider and your office? What is real business problem and how can it be solved?

Conley said the problem is "everyone agrees, walks away and no one helps out... everyone needs to talk to someone else and get back." Take the Department of Transportation as an example. It supports broadband but does not want anyone to bother with its fiber. Ghini said trying to leverage other fiber with other organizations is very hard. The Federal government's efforts must try to leverage what is already available. Baum noted that public and private cooperation can save a lot of money and used pole attachments as an example. Jackson said Virginia looked back at highway permits to see which carriers had fiber there. Patterson noted that there is unused, "dark" fiber all across North Carolina. It is out there for many different organizations - sharing the fiber is what FCC should look at.

Q6 - In terms of information from service providers and carriers, are there limitations on the data that should be addressed going forward or is it proprietary in terms of granularity?

Commissioner Baum said bigger carriers have the info, smaller ones do not. And for the companies that do have the information, they do do not want to show it to the competition, so it is a tricky subject. Ghini said Florida asked providers where they were going and they do not want to give that information. Jackson said her state, with an emphasis on unserved areas, had a desire not to over build. Virginia did not want to threaten some private providers by overbuilding on their territory.

Q7 - Does any state have mandatory digital literacy from K through 12?

Yes, North Carolina. Since 1993, requirement to pass a test in order to get a diploma. You can get a certificate but not a diploma. Can start taking the test in 2nd grade.

Q8 - Fiber - What efforts/incentives do you have for building codes etc to incent fiber in the state or is it retroactive to see where fiber has already been placed?

Commissioner Baum suggested to states that when carriers come in for ate cases, regulators should ask them about their fiber. Patterson noted the FCC's rural health pilot program: lots of cooperation from private providers. Virginia used tobacco settlement money for buildout of fiber. It provides a backbone and leveraged it extensively; created incentives for providers to go into smaller communities without paying backhaul rates; and has been able to get a return on investment. Patterson said the FCC's E-Rate program has helped bring fiber to school districts and then created more incentives for providers for the final build out.

Q9 - National Purposes - consider role broadband will play in national purposes many of them are also related to state missions in Healthcare, Energy and Education. What have you seen in the states on those issues?

Mississippi has benefited from E-Rate and bringing consortium-based approach to leveraging the dollars. Also applied for rural health grant. In Energy pursing opportunities for grid based opportunities in the state. Ghini said the E- Rate program is helpful. Patterson said that without the E-rate, school sand classrooms would not be connected. In Healthcare, about 340 sites on state telehealth network. Many doctors need to be educated. Ability of fed state and private to share networks together is very important. Community College which are bedrock of workforce investment get no help for connectivity. Commissioner Baum noted that no one is coordinating all the different applications and programs. E-Rate must be leveraged, he said.

The second panel included municipal and county-level officials.

Hardik Bhatt -- Chief Information Officer, City of Chicago, and Commissioner, Chicago Department of Innovation and Technology -- said Chicago has focuses on affordable universal tech access. The four major principles include making broadband a major infrastructure, advancing speed, affordability, and ensuring that networks are open. There is a very noticeable difference in adoption of non English speakers. Wants to work with transportation department whenever streets are dug up, and wants to work with new building complexes. Smart use of resources can change the fabric of a community.

Commissioner Paul Cosgrave of the Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications for the City of New York said there's great lag in adoption in the low income areas. City has programs that give consolidated student learning connection between the school and their homes. ACCESS NYC aggregates benefit programs for which different families are eligible for.

Lafayette, Louisiana City-Parish President Joey Durel said his city has a fiber ring around the town with its own utility system.

El Paso's Chief Information Officer and IT Director, Gary Gordier, said his city is building a fiber backbone to anchor institutions in the city. There are training programs for low income areas, a computer loan program, a financial literacy program for computers. He also noted spectrum interference issues with Juarez Mexico.

Lori Sherwood, the Cable Administrator for Howard County, Maryland, identified the "5Cs": community needs, cooperation, coordination, consolidation, cost savings.

San Francisco Chief Information Officer Chris Vein spoke to the need partnership and noted San Francisco's many partnerships with non-profits.


Q1 - Importance of speed? What does it mean to business centers? What does it mean in less-dense areas that are delivering some pretty fantastic speeds? What benefits do you see when it comes to really high-speed services?

Bhatt said Chicago gas worked closely with end-users, especially around healthcare and education. Cosgrave said that, for unserved communities, DSL speeds are OK to get them started. Although they do need higher speeds for projects such as creating digital media. It is hard to get private companies to serve these areas with very fast speeds.

Durel said the current definition of broadband is weak and that we need to start doing away with old impediments to competition. Right now Lafayette delivers 100 megabits and even a gigabit per second to every school in the parish. Distance learning projects were created. No monster business has been created, but many small business have located there. Disney is shooting a movie there mostly because the high speeds will allow them to complete post production onsite. Talking in terms of Kilobits is antiquated.

Gordier said that in lowest income area - dial up would be golden, but, on the other hand, the medical college needs high speeds - public safety needs higher speeds. Demand for speed is growing. Need capacity at high speeds, this is where bottlenecks can appear. Need to make sure that going forward fiber and wireless must work together.

Howard County's Sherwood said high-speed high capacity = Access. She wants to partner with public TV for free content that needs high-speed bandwidth. Community colleges are also tapped out because they cannot really stream their channel online. Not during the day time when students are online as well.

Q2 - Adoption - TWO questions - 1) access to computing as it relates to adoption, which is one problem, how do we fix? - 2) Relevancy of content? What advice do you have on the issue and what advice would you give to the Federal government?

Cosgrave said content will drive adoption assuming we address access hurdles. Bhatt noted Chicago's Digital Excellence Action Agenda aimed to help consumers access technologies and sources.

Q3 - Affordability - have any of the pilots addressed that?

In El Paso, community colleges took on the role of help desk ad fielded lots of inquiries and lots of calls. San Francisco has partnerships with Goodwill including classes to teach people how to refurbish computers and grow community and capacity in that way. In Chicago, the public library has a program called cyber navigators to teach adults.

Q4 - Importance of real time data for adoption of service, to enable better intervention to target areas where uptake is not what it should be. Are there certain data sources to use to get the real time data

Bhatt said the best way to get data is surveying. Make incumbents provide the data. Perhaps the mapping money will help? Sherwood suggested adding questioning onto census - in 1930 everyone asked whether they have a radio.

Q5 - National Purposes - Public Safety - Any lessons and advice for FCC on Public Safety?

Cosgrave said to never build two highways one for public safety and another for public - one highway where public safety can take over in terms of emergency. Bhatt said the public safety network should be used for other public access needs.

Q6 - Pick a national purpose and give some advice on the topic as it relates to your city?

From Howard County -- energy: a pilot program to install meters in county buildings to monitor energy and carbon. In order to get meters all government buildings need to be on one network and compare footprints.

From Lafayette: Citizens can go to computer and look at energy usage to see how they can conserve energy. Can prevent rolling blackouts by simply turning off their AC from a central network.

San Francisco: Eco Map - entire city broken down by zip code. How well you are doing with recycling or emissions. All benefits are available on one website. Demand no more important than supply. Programs drive adoption, but also need all the other pieces.

Q7 - What are top 2 or 3 key things to get collaboration going

Leadership and government official who gets it is important - there also needs to be a vision stated.
Effort needs to be made with the private sector and need to keep in mind needs of community.