The COVID-19 pandemic has only increased the importance of reliable, affordable home broadband access for local economies and expanding education, healthcare, and employment opportunities for residents. State governments play an important role in broadband deployment, acting as a policy leader, a facilitator of federal and state funds, and a center for information that can help local officials identify and deploy broadband solutions in their community. Governors, in particular, play a crucial role in enabling collaboration in states and improving broadband availability and adoption. 

On November 17, 2020, the National Governors Association (NGA) released a white paper outlining key strategies and best practices designed to expand affordable broadband access.  In addition to offering recommendations, the paper lists the ways that several states and territories have leveraged CARES Act funding to improve broadband access and increase adoption rates. Nine best practices for governors emerged. 

    • Governor-established task forces and work groups promote collaboration among state agencies. Examples: Maryland, Colorado, and Minnesota.
    • Initiating strategic partnerships encourage broadband investment. Examples: North Carolina, Vermont, Maine, New Hampshire, and New Mexico.
    • Anchor institutions should be leveraged to provide service to people who are not connected. Examples: South Carolina, Maine, Missouri, Tennessee, Illinois and New Mexico.
    • Dig-once coordination efficiently leverages existing infrastructure and reduces deployment costs. Examples: Utah, California, Indiana, and North Carolina.
    • States can facilitate broadband deployment by leveraging electric utilities’ infrastructure. Examples:  Alabama, Arizona, North Carolina, Tennessee, Mississippi, Vermont, Virginia, and West Virginia.
    • Coordinating and expanding affordability programs improves adoption rates. Examples: Wisconsin, Colorado, and North Carolina.
    • Deploying innovative procurement strategies will reduce barriers for new project deployments and help identify cost-effective providers. Examples: North Dakota, Michigan, and New York.
    • Improving broadband mapping will inform state and federal policymakers and provide context for progress. Examples: Minnesota, Washington, and North Carolina.
    • Flexible funding opportunities enable innovative and efficient deployment. Examples: Kentucky, Indiana, New York, Illinois, Minnesota, North Carolina, and Vermont.

To date, more than twenty states house broadband offices dedicated to bridging the digital divide. States continue facing challenges like funding limitations and high deployment costs in rural areas. Even if a governor cannot implement all the best practices outlined above, connectivity solutions can be implemented gradually over time, as several of the states mentioned in the report have shown over the past decade. 

The NGA white paper expands on the existing bodies of work being produced by state governor’s offices across the country. Earlier in November, the Texas Governor’s Broadband Deployment Council released its 2020 Report, which found that economic barriers to broadband deployment in rural areas, incomplete and non-transparent data, insufficient statewide collaboration, and low adoption rates are all challenges to ensuring that every Texan has access to reliable, high-quality broadband.

Next Century Cities applauds the NGA’s efforts to identify opportunities to compile state strategies targeted at improving broadband access. Local officials in municipalities nationwide are grappling with ways to expand digital infrastructure and eliminate obstacles to adoption, both independently and in coordination with state initiatives. NCC will continue to facilitate information sharing and learning opportunities between state and local leadership.