This week, Next Century Cities hosted Making Connections: A Regional Broadband Summit in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The summit brought together national and local leaders and included panel conversations about today’s pressing broadband issues, including broadband financing, digital inclusion, successful network models, and breakout sessions about 5G and rural connectivity solutions.


Individual panel and keynote videos may be found here, and a recording of the full event can be viewed below:

Thank you to the Internet Society for making the recording of this event possible!


The Summit kicked off with a welcome from Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto, who spoke about Pittsburgh’s transformation from a struggling steel town to a leader in technology, and the reality of the digital divide. “That digital divide is not simply urban-rural, but within urban areas itself,” said the Mayor.



Mayor Peduto also highlighted the city’s new Inclusive Innovation Plan, which creates guidelines for questions such as “‘how does local government become proactive in order to be able to bridge that divide? How can we make sure that underserved communities are at the forefront of what we do when we offer new initiatives that are reliant upon the use of a computer?’” the Mayor explained.


Mark Smith, the Executive Director of Broadband Initiatives for Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf, delivered welcoming remarks on behalf of the Governor. Jordan Ball, a Regional Representative for U.S. Senator Bob Casey, Jr. (D-PA) then took the stage to deliver a welcoming statement on behalf of the Senator.



Blair Levin, Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution, joined Christopher Mitchell, Next Century Cities’ Policy Director, for a morning keynote discussion that centered on the disparity between city priorities and Federal Communications Commission policy.


“The FCC has curiously interpreted their statutory mandate to dramatically reduce its regulatory powers over private enterprise,” Levin said, “while simultaneously asserting new authority to regulate prices and micromanage over only one set of enterprises, local governments.”



Mignon Clyburn, former Chairwoman of the Federal Communications Commission, delivered a lunchtime keynote about the importance of universal connectivity.


“Without these critical networks, none of the innovation and growth that we’ve ever hoped to achieve in any [sector] will be possible,” said Clyburn. “That is why promoting the deployment and adoption of broadband-enabled services should always be a top priority.”


Sascha Meinrath, Director of X-Lab and the Palmer Chair in Telecommunications at Pennsylvania State University, presented an afternoon keynote address about the flaws of current broadband mapping techniques, the importance of collecting accurate data, and the new Pennsylvania mapping methodology project that seeks to create local maps that measure the discrepancy between advertised and actual internet services.  


In addition to the keynote conversations, attendees heard from elected officials and city leaders as they discussed successful models for broadband deployment and policies that support ubiquitous access to twenty-first century infrastructure.



On the first panel, Ernie Staten, Deputy Director of the Public Service Department for the City of Fairlawn, Ohio; David Corrado, CEO of the Medina County Fiber Network in Medina County, Ohio; Melanie McCoy, Superintendent for Sebewaing Light & Water in the City of Sebewaing, Michigan; Cheryl DeBerry, Natural Resources Business Specialist for Garrett County, Maryland; and Kim McKinley, Director of Marketing for UTOPIA Fiber all discussed the variety of successful models that can be employed to bring broadband to communities. Models discussed included municipal networks, public-private partnerships, open access networks, and more. The panel was moderated by Next Century Cities’ Policy Director Christopher Mitchell.



The next panel discussed the importance of digital equity and what steps cities could take to ensure equitable access to broadband and other digital resources. Panelists for this conversation were: Bill Callahan, Director of Connect Your Community and Research and Policy Coordinator for the National Digital Inclusion Alliance; Francella Ochillo, Director of Government and Legal Affairs for the National Hispanic Media Coalition; Angelique Johnson, CEO and Founder of MEMStim LLC and CEO and Founder of Vissionaireum; Majestic Lane, Deputy Chief of Staff to Pittsburgh Mayor William Peduto; and Liz Lazar, Director of Programs and Partnerships for DigitalC in Cleveland, Ohio. Next Century Cities’ Executive Director Deb Socia moderated the conversation.


Attendees then split into two breakout sessions: 5G and rural solutions. The 5G breakout panel tackled small cell permitting challenges and federal and state threats to local control, and offered a vendor perspective about the ways in which cities can help or hurt the deployment of 5G. Panelists also offered suggestions on how both vendors and cities can collaborate to expedite access to the opportunities promised by 5G. Speakers for this panel: Rebecca Hunter, External Affairs and Strategic Communications, Corporate Development and Strategy, Crown Castle; Nick Hall, Digital Services Manager for the City of Pittsburgh; Joanne Hovis, President of CTC Technology & Energy; Mitsuko Herrera, Director of ultraMontgomery for Montgomery County, Maryland; and Anne Schweiger, Broadband and Digital Equity Advocate for the City of Boston. Deb Socia moderated the conversation.


The rural solutions breakout panel discussed the unique set of challenges that rural communities face when working to improve connectivity. The panel broke down these challenges, highlighted successful rural solutions, and shared best practices in rural connectivity. Jonathan Chambers, Partner at Conexon LLC and former Chief of the Office of Strategic Planning and Policy Analysis at the Federal Communications Commission; Drew Davis, Broadband Program Manager, Information Technology, Larimer County, Colorado; Fletcher Kittredge, Founder and CEO of Great Works Internet in Maine; Harry Collins, Chairman of the Letcher County Broadband Board in Letcher County, Kentucky; and Richard Jenkins, General Field Representative for XX all offered important insight. Christopher Mitchell moderated the conversation.



The final panel of the day addressed broadband financing, exploring the financing options available to communities, including traditional funding opportunities, available federal programs, and creative new projects that can provide communities with unique funding solutions. Panelists for the conversation: Jonathan Chambers, Partner at Connexon LLC and former Chief of the Office of Strategic Planning and Policy Analysis at the Federal Communications Commission; Tom Coverick, Managing Director at KeyBanc Capital Markets; Garrett Brinker, Product Manager at Neighborly; and Jim Baller, President of Baller Stokes & Lide, P.C. Don Williams, Senior Specialist for Broadband Development Infrastructure at the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, moderated the panel.


The summit also included an exclusive screening of the documentary Do Not Pass Go, which tells the story of Wilson, N.C.’s Greenlight network and the legislative fight against municipal broadband in North Carolina.


The full-day event highlighted successful connectivity solutions and provided a platform for cities to share best practices and lessons learned.


“Cities have led the charge for creative, effective connectivity solutions for their communities,” said Deb Socia, Executive Director of Next Century Cities. “Bringing local, state, and federal leaders together to discuss successful models and to unpack challenges maximizes the benefits of lessons learned and inspires action.”


Thank you to our Platinum Sponsor: Crown Castle

To our Gold Sponsors: Foresite Group, KeyBanc Capital Markets, and the Internet Society

To our Silver Sponsors: SmartWorks Partners and Winncom

And to our Bronze Sponsors: ISPN and VETRO FiberMap.


Learn more about Making Connections on our site here, and watch the full event here

Find additional coverage about the event from Telecompetitor, Route Fiftyand the Pittsburgh Business Times