On April 30, 2020, Next Century Cities members from across the country came together for a video conference call with two advisors for Federal Communications Commission (FCC or Commission) Chairman Ajit Pai. 

Next Century Cities provided a platform for sharing local stories with Commission staff. Eight representatives from local and state governments shared their stories, ranging from municipal networks and low-income internet options to competition and speed minimums. These officials serve as mayors, commissioners, technology officers, and digital inclusion advisors and have a shared goal to connect their communities through any means necessary.

In Oxnard, California, residents grapple with slow speeds and a lack of private investment as they continue to live their lives during this stay-at-home period. A recent report published by BroadbandNow ranked Oxnard as #3 in terms of communities facing network degradation since the beginning of March. While over 80% of their residents believe broadband is a requirement to live and stay in the community, local officials are trying to secure funding for their community as Oxnard is too connected to be “unserved,” but too disconnected to survive. This problem extends beyond the west coast to South Bend, Indiana where officials are asking the FCC to re-evaluate how they determine “served.” South Bend explained that while they are technically served, the on-the-ground reality differs. During a time of social distancing, officials are going as far as to deploy wifi-enabled buses to keep students online in their homes, but that is not enough. It is not a sustainable solution.  

From South Bend, we moved further east to Louisville, Kentucky which is championing an effort to standardize processes for low-income communities seeking assistance with broadband subscriptions. Currently, the requirements vary widely across internet service providers, but local leaders in Louisville are seeking streamlined and long term solutions to remove administrative barriers to connecting. However, they are not alone. Rochester, New York is also exploring ways to bring their historically underserved communities online. One of our newest members, Rochester is working each day with local non-profits and partners to implement a plan that serves every member of their community, especially its most disenfranchised populations. 

Our members also highlighted the important infrastructure projects they are completing across their municipalities. In Mount Vernon, Washington, officials are training builders to “dig once” and understand the importance of fiber conduits and infrastructure in all new construction projects. A partnership with builders during construction is proving to not only help people in Mount Vernon, but also the economy as studies have shown high-speed broadband infrastructure increases property values. Not far from Mount Vernon is Anacortes, Washington where officials are proud of their rollout of a two-year pilot municipal network. Officials there recognize that FCC minimum broadband speeds and grant programs need updating, but took it upon themselves to ensure every resident in the city receives the broadband connection they deserve.

The stories shared on April 30th were not just a summary of the barriers that local officials face on a daily basis, but an opportunity for agency staff, broadband advocates and other local officials to hear about the immense work being done to connect communities nationwide. When local governments join the Next Century Cities’ network, they affirm their own commitments to our core principles and one common mission: to ensure everyone has fast, affordable, and reliable broadband. We understand that there is no one solution for every municipality, but through sharing their successes and failures, local officials can work together to develop unique solutions for every resident in every community to be able to participate in a digital society.

The Ex Parte from this meeting can be found here.