Tony Neal-Graves, a former Intel Corp. vice president who was recently named executive director of Colorado’s broadband office, spent the first three weeks at his new job meeting people in state government, learning all he could about operations, challenges and possibilities.
During a recent conversation with Government Technology, Neal-Graves said the next step is to familiarize himself with the disparate challenges faced by communities throughout Colorado, from major cities like Denver in the mountainous Front Range region, down to rural towns in the Eastern Plain, where life looks more like Kansas than the Rockies.
“My perspective on broadband — and solving some of the challenges about access and coverage across the state — is that it really depends on where you are,” said Neal-Graves. “Each of the various local counties and municipalities have different challenges.”
Neal-Graves' focus in doing so is related to the state’s ongoing push to bring high-speed Internet access to all residents. Seventy percent of Colorado’s rural population currently has access to broadband, a number the state government aims to raise to 85 percent by the end of 2018, and 100 percent by the end of 2020. Neal-Graves described these goals as ambitious, but obtainable and imperative, pointing to collaboration as one of the keys.
The broadband office is housed in the Governor’s Office of Information Technology, where it works closely with the Colorado Office of Economic Development and International Trade. Neal-Graves reports directly to Gov. John Hickenlooper’s chief of staff, Doug Friednash, as well as to Lt. Gov. Donna Lynne.
A veteran of the private sector who before Intel spent years with AT&T and Lucent Technologies, Neal-Graves said his background in business and private companies will help him foster partnerships. He spent the last three years at Intel working on initiatives related to Internet of Things and other developing technologies. He said a key takeaway of that work, was that in order to deliver capabilities to all citizens, multiple companies must collaborate. With the Internet of Things there was a variety of companies partnering to deliver functionality.
“I think the same is true here,” said Neal-Graves. “It’s going to take a state government working with municipalities and also with private companies, ISPs and various service providers to really solve the problems in the different counties. I think my business background — in terms of developing those types of partnerships — will lend itself to this as well.”
Neal-Graves said in the early days of his work he’s had a “laser focus” on extending high-speed Internet access to all residents of Colorado. His current plans are to spend the first 90 days of his tenure understanding how the various regions that make up the state view the problem, before beginning work on collaborations that may solve it.
“The No. 1 reason I took this job is that I really believe in providing good-quality broadband access to all citizens,” said Neal-Graves. “It’s something that we really, critically have to do.”
In addition to collaboration, Neal-Graves said a willingness to explore new technologies and other innovations could be useful. This work could also potentially span multiple administrations.
It is, however, worth sticking with, as the rewards for extending high-speed infrastructure are immense. Neal-Graves, who describes himself as a history buff, said that throughout the history of the United States, economic development has been driven by improvements to infrastructure, whether that be canals, railroads, rural electricity capabilities or telephones. High-speed Internet now functions as a powerful information tool that can level the playing field, giving all those who have access to it the ability to compete.
“We’ve always tried to build out that infrastructure and get people connected somehow,” said Neal-Graves, “whether it was physically connected or through technology, first with phones and now with the Internet.”