By Brian Donoghue
Former Chattanooga Mayor and current NTIA Special Representative for Broadband Andy Berke delivering the keynote address
After two years of virtual convenings, the Metrolab Network hosted its annual summit in collaboration with the Mansueto Institute for Urban Innovation in Chicago. The June 2022 convening brought together leading government practitioners and academics from across the civic ecosystem who are leveraging technology, analytics, and innovation to work toward digital equity.
Following the opening plenary panels, Former Chattanooga Mayor and current NTIA Special Representative for Broadband Andy Berke delivered a keynote address. His remarks included advice for local leaders preparing for the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act broadband funding programs. Illustrating the importance of quality, affordable connectivity in our communities, Berke told the story of an entrepreneur he met during one of his visits to a remote locality. Anne, a craftsperson, had no interest in Internet service until connectivity enabled her to expand her business through online sales. Anne’s story is only one example of residents’ widely varying needs. Preparing for upcoming funding opportunities will require local government leaders to complete comprehensive outreach in their communities to determine unmet needs.
Local leaders from two Next Century Cities (NCC) member communities shared their stories about working with academic partners to expand and improve digital opportunities for their residents.
The first discussion focused on Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and surrounding counties. There, local leaders are partnering with area academics and nonprofits to measure and bridge digital divides. Panelists highlighted two projects: the robust community surveying efforts completed by the local nonprofit Allies for Children and the Every1Online Initiative. Every1Online leverages the height of University of Pittsburgh’s 40-story Cathedral of Learning to transmit a core internet connection through “repeater towers’ ‘ in each of the project’s target neighborhoods. These initiatives showcase the range of ways local leaders can engage with community partners to improve resident outcomes.
NCC member community South Bend, Indiana’s Innovation and Technology team, led the second panel, discussing their partnership with leaders from the South Bend Community School Corporation and the University of Notre Dame. The partnership’s innovative approach will bring another layer of connectivity to students across the city. Previously underutilized radio spectrum is now being leveraged to offer secure and reliable internet service via LTE technology to South Bend Community School Corporation students and families in their homes. Panelists discussed their layered-connectivity approach and the various use cases for their CBRS-based solution in an open Q&A format that engaged a room of interested practitioners.
Creating space for local leaders to share their strategies for advancing digital opportunities was a great addition to this year’s programming. We were grateful to be a part of an inspiring and informative gathering by Executive Director Kate Garman Burns and the Metrolab team and welcome future opportunities to elevate local stories.