Over the past year, Next Century Cities (NCC) has increased its outreach to state leaders and doubled down on participation in state level regulatory proceedings. In each of these projects, NCC has elevated local perspectives on broadband policy, highlighting the critical need for processes that invite local officials to the table and provide opportunities for meaningful local policy recommendations. With effective outreach and coordination, policies that begin as city or county strategies can expand into opportunities to improve connectivity across entire states or regions. 

Idaho

June 2020: NCC sent two letters to the Idaho Department of Commerce urging them to:

  • Include municipally supported open access middle mile networks in the pool of eligible recipients of CARES Act funding;
  • Increase the benchmark speed from 25 Megabits Per Second (Mbps) and 3 Mbps upload; and 
  • Allow funding to go to communities that have greater than 50% connectivity and to be used for network upgrades. 

Illinois 

May 2020: NCC participated in a webinar discussing strategies for developing broadband leadership hosted by the University of Illinois Extension Local Government Education Program and the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity Illinois Office of Broadband in partnership with the Benton Institute for Broadband & Society. NCC’s Executive Director Francella Ochillo moderated a panel discussion where local officials shared their insights on the crucial role of digital literacy, the importance of broadband access for economic development, and local approaches to connecting students during the pandemic. 

September 2020: Connecting Illinois Residents: In August 2020, Governor J.B. Pritzker and the Benton Institute for Broadband and Society announced a grant program directed at closing the digital divide. The funding supports 28 communities and initiatives from across Illinois that serve a wide variety of residents and needs, including NCC member municipalities. 

November 2020: NCC created a video narrative to introduce the first cohort of local governments, school districts, economic development authorities, and community groups that were selected for Illinois Connected Communities grant awards. This program was designed to provide funding and expert advice to twelve community organizations across the state that are working to connect residents and close the digital divide. Together, they hope to connect students, small businesses, and neighbors who are among the 380,000 Illinois residents who still do not have access to fast, affordable, and reliable broadband. 

California

August 2020: Governor Gavin Newsom signed Executive Order N-73-20, which set statewide digital equity as a goal and gave a series of directions to state agencies. In September 2020, the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) opened a rulemaking proceeding to carry out Governor Newsom’s Executive Order. Then, in December 2020 on the first day of the state’s new legislative session, State Senator Lena Gonzalez introduced Senate Bill 4, which would make broadband funding available.

October 2020: NCC submitted a letter urging Governor Newsom to reopen the state legislative session to pass a Broadband For All Bill. NCC responded to the CPUC’s request for comment on its rulemaking. 

November 2020: NCC became a party to the CPUC’s rulemaking, participating in a hearing and discussing the significance of longer comment periods to enable local government participation in the process. 

December 2020: NCC sent a letter to Senator Gonzalez supporting the introduction of SB 4 and highlighting the importance of municipal bonds to local broadband expansion initiatives.

February 2021: NCC submitted its opening brief with the CPUC which highlighted local comments to the California Broadband Council and discussed ways that those insights can inform the CPUC’s actions to spur deployment through  investor-owned utilities.  

New York

August 2020: In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, Governor Andrew Cuomo established the Reimagine New York Commission, which works to address connectivity challenges faced by residents across the state. In a virtual hearing before the Commission, community leaders from across the Next Century Cities network shared local connectivity stories.

November 2020: NCC submitted a letter to the Reimagine New York Commission, recommending strategies to improve connectivity for residents. NCC’s Executive Director, Francella Ochillo presented keynote remarks at an event hosted by New York State Senator James Sanders Jr. discussing strategies for increasing broadband access and adoption for residents in Southeast Queens. 

Ohio

January 2021: NCC submitted a response to Cuyahoga County’s Request for Information regarding local broadband strategies. The letter discussed potential inter-municipality collaborations and discussed ways that NCC could support digital inclusion and broadband expansion efforts in the County. 

NCC’s state work is not possible without the support of engaged and involved local leaders who bring their expertise to the table to enhance conversations about expanding broadband access and improving digital equity. If you are a local official and have ideas for projects or proceedings where NCC could make an impact, please contact Corian Zacher, corian@nextcenturycities.org