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NCC Highlights the Importance of Community Broadband Planning at Promise Neighborhoods National Network Conference

The Promise Neighborhoods National Network Conference annually convenes U.S. Department of Education’s Promise Neighborhoods and Full-Service Community Schools program grantees. Promise Neighborhoods programs are designed to prepare children and young adults for success in college and post-graduate careers. 

Every member of every community needs a reliable, affordable Internet connection in their home to communicate with employers, educators, and healthcare providers, access government services, and support technologies that can improve their livelihood. Gaps in device and Internet access have tangible impacts on students’ development. Brookings Institute found that for children living in households with an income below $25,000 a year, 12.2% of survey respondents stated that digital devices were rarely or never available for a child’s distance learning, while 9.8 percent stated that their children did not have Internet available for schoolwork in May 2020.

Students also need reliable broadband access to learn valuable skills necessary for employment. The Arkansas Computer Science Initiative has become a model for other states seeking to prepare students for college and participation in a high-skilled workforce. In a study of broadband and computer access across U.S. metros, the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia found that “expanding access to a broadband-enabled computer for prime-age workers who currently lack access could bring nearly 400,000 additional residents into the labor force.”

On December 10, 2021, Corian Zacher, NCC’s Policy Counsel for State and Local Initiatives, joined Roberto Gallardo, Director of the Purdue Center for Regional Development and Associate Professor, and Myles Kamisher-Koch, Broadband Analyst at Rural Innovation Strategies, Inc., for a panel on “Improving Broadband Infrastructure beyond the Pandemic.” 

Panelists discussed the impact that COVID-19 had on raising public awareness about the critical importance of ubiquitous broadband. Zacher’s remarks focused on barriers to broadband expansion and potential solutions, including the need for improved broadband data, removing state laws that restrict municipal autonomy, and equipping local governments with resources. 

In the absence of federal data, local governments are collecting their own information about community needs through speed tests, surveys, and public meetings. Accurate information about the state of connectivity is an essential first step to developing long-term broadband strategies. Effective plans encompass the range of community broadband needs and provide guidance in how local governments can make the best use of upcoming funding opportunities. 

Local broadband planning is key to achieving ubiquitous high-speed connectivity and ensuring that residents have the requisite tools to connect. Community-level efforts are needed to understand and address remaining gaps in Internet access and adoption. 

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