Next Century Cities members from across the United States traveled to Washington, D.C. for our annual event, Opportunities for Bipartisan Tech Policy Conference on January 23, 2020.  In this space, local leaders, federal government officials, and advocates came together to discuss the future of digital issues in cities, towns, and tribal communities across the country. When the event concluded, most attendees returned to their offices, hotels, or communities, but two NCC member communities trekked to the halls of Congress and took their arguments directly to the decision makers.

Aldona Valicenti, formerly the inaugural Chief Information Officer of Kentucky and now the CIO and Commissioner of the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Government, visited with staff from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s office. Aldona, a well known voice in Kentucky and Washington, D.C., shared updates from her community with two of Senator McConnell’s staff members. As part of her updates, Aldona was able to share with the staff that Lexington is in the process of concluding a multi-year project. This July, their broadband infrastructure will conclude almost 1 ½ years earlier than originally projected. Aldona and her community exemplify what can be accomplished when we support local solutions.

Bruce Patterson, the Chief Technology Officer of Next Century Cities member Ammon, ID, sat down with two legislative staff members in the Offices of Senators Mike Crapo and James Rish of Idaho. For over an hour, Mr. Patterson walked the staffers through the success story of Ammon Fiber and the long battle that resulted in his municipalities’ success. A point Mr. Patterson was especially proud to share with the Senators’ staff that the City of  Ammon has spent not spent any public money on connecting private homes. Though public money connected city offices and public anchors (such as libraries and community centers), citizens of Ammon instead funding connections to their homes through private means. Ammon Fiber is providing reliable service to virtually every address in Ammon at prices lower than national averages while receiving high marks from their customers.

In a personal call to action, Mr. Patterson echoed a sentiment felt by many municipal governments across the United States – there is no lobbying arm for local government, only dedicated and hard working community leaders who do not often get a voice in federal policymaking.This is a void which Next Century Cities and others are working to fill. Other communities are coming together in hopes of replicating the success in Ammon, ID, and need all the support they can gather from state and federal government officials.

Across the United States, over 211 Next Century Cities member municipalities, and countless other communities, are working together to bring every resident online. They are talking with their neighbors, hosting town halls, and advocating for a digital future. However, their voices are still missing from one key place – Congress.

Next Century Cities was proud to accompany Aldona Valicenti and Bruce Patterson to the United States Senate, and we look forward to continuing this work in the coming year. Local leaders remain our greatest assets in understanding the real impacts of the digital divide, and we are thankful for their continued service to their communities, their fight for digital inclusion, and their country.