Mar 31 2016

County, Federal Government to Collaborate on Local Broadband Deployments

The National Association of Counties is partnering with NTIA to foster high-speed network construction.

Although city governments and states like New York have been at the forefront of efforts to get high-speed broadband deployed in local communities, county governments plan on doing their part. The National Association of Counties (NACo) plans to spur broadband deployment through a partnership with the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA).

NTIA, an arm of the Commerce Department that advises the president on telecommunications policy and manages federal wireless spectrum holdings, earlier this month launched the Community Connectivity Initiative to “empower communities across the country by giving them tools to support and accelerate local broadband planning efforts.”

Jacob Terrell, NACo’s associate legislative director for telecommunications and technology, said in a blog post that the association will work with NTIA “on engaging directly with county leaders across the nation to help identify factors to determine a community’s overall accessibility to broadband services, and identifying best practices in overcoming obstacles in the pursuit of expanding broadband access.”

NACo Aims to Spark Conversations

In an interview with StateTech, Terrell said NACo “really wants to play the role of a facilitator and make sure that county governments have a seat at the table” as more local governments pursue improved broadband access. NACo wants to serve as a conduit between the federal and local governments, he said. NACo will work with NTIA in the next few weeks to create a webinar for county leaders to inform them about the Community Connectivity Initiative and how to work with NTIA directly.

Terrell said he sees NACo as an organization that can convene forums of local governments to share best practices on innovative ways to work with private industry and others to deploy broadband.

The needs of local governments in rural areas may be different than in urban ones, he said, adding that some rural communities are still simply looking to get access to high-speed broadband for the first time, whether through fiber optics or 4G LTE wireless service.

In rural areas in particular, Terrell noted that getting the “last mile” constructed for broadband networks continues to be a barrier for some communities. Often, broadband providers and network vendors do not think it is economically viable to bring high-speed Internet access to remote communities. He said that NACo hopes to foster discussion on how to overcome those barriers.

NACo is not going to prescribe best practices for local governments and their IT departments as they work to deploy broadband networks, Terrell said. Instead, NACo’s attitude is, “We want you all to talk amongst each other and build those ideas and figure out exactly what works.”

NTIA’s Broadband Mission

According to the NTIA, the Community Connectivity Initiative will provide communities with several tools, including “a comprehensive self-assessment tool and report to better understand how their current policies and programs support broadband connectivity.” The effort will also provide local governments with a tool to compare how their connectivity rates against others, “technical assistance with project planning and implementation,” and access to other communities that are engaged in similar efforts.

The online self-assessment tool offers “a framework of benchmarks and indicators on access, adoption, policy and use” that lets local communities create “a planning framework for community leaders who want to better align community technology policies, partnerships and investments with local priorities and programs.”

After that assessment is conducted, NTIA’s website says communities will get “a report that combines input from the self-assessment with other data sources” to show how the community compares with others and provide recommended actions. Communities can prioritize recommendations based on local objectives and resources.

Experts from NTIA’s BroadbandUSA program can offer technical assistance, as well as best practices, guides and other resources. NTIA said on its website that it hopes that the program results in more local governments developing best practices, documenting successes and working with other government peers on broadband deployments.

BroadbandUSA is still working with community, civic and corporate leaders to develop and finalize a set of “connectivity indicators” this summer, according to the NTI’as website. The program plans to conduct beta pilots using the online tool this fall and then widely roll out the program broadly to communities in 2017.


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