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What’s New in Civic Tech: A New Community Broadband Report

Plus, a technology SWAT team is supporting New York State’s COVID-19 response; NASCIO’s state IT recognition award submissions are now open; and New York City has now launched its text-to-911 capability.

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The Open Technology Institute, which is part of the public policy think tank New America, has released a new report on community broadband efforts

The report notes that in order to bridge digital divides — which essentially means decrease the number of individuals without the ability to use and benefit from technology — hundreds of communities in the United States have started to build their own networks instead of relying on private-sector or incumbent Internet service providers. By the report’s count, some 900 communities nationwide have done this, including those with municipal or public option networks.

What the report found is that the key when it comes to community broadband networks is empowering public-sector decision-makers at the local level to evaluate the needs of their own communities and make a choice based on that.

“These networks can challenge incumbent private providers in the area to deliver higher-quality and more affordable Internet, reaching more underserved communities than private providers would,” reads the report’s introduction. “Numerous municipal networks have expanded economic opportunities by connecting people to online educational and employment opportunities.”

In addition, this report goes on to address a wide range of related topics, including the current state of broadband availability in the U.S.; the success of community and tribal broadband networks; and the hurdles presented to community networks by the laws in some states. 

Technology SWAT Team Supports New York State’s COVID-19 Response

The New York state government has assembled what it’s calling a technology SWAT team to help aid its COVID-19 response.

The team is a public-private partnership that, according to its website, means that New York state is now “launching technology driven products with leading global tech companies to accelerate and amplify our response to COVID-19.” It is essentially a means of facilitating skilled private-sector tech talent in creating working relationships with government.

As the site continues to note, “individuals from leading global technology companies are being deployed across high-impact and urgent coronavirus response activities.”

This effort has seen the state receive more than 4,700 submissions from those who wish to participate, creating a group of more than 6,500 total volunteers. Throughout the crisis, tech volunteers have been interested in helping with a range of functions, including data analytics, end-user support, Web/mobile development and digital content strategy. 

While the project is still accepting interest from tech companies, universities, nonprofits, research labs, and other organizations with tech expertise, what is perhaps more notable at this stage is that there is also a separate website for completed projects. Not only that, but the state’s technology office has disseminated that successful work in the form of a playbook that can help others in government replicate its efforts. 

Interested parties can find all of that here.

NASCIO State IT Recognition Award Submissions Now Open

The National Association of State CIOs (NASCIO) is currently accepting submissions for its state IT recognition awards, asking those in state government to nominate technology “projects that address critical business problems, improve business practices and increase citizen engagement.”

Nominations can be submitted by any NASCIO state and territory members in good standing, with one nomination per category allowed per state CIO office. To be eligible, projects must be state-focused, and within that, multi-state projects are encouraged provided they are nominated by the leading state. 

More information about all of this — as well as an awards information packet — can be found here. The deadline for submissions is Wednesday, June 24.

New York City Launches Text-to-911

Finally, in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis and substantial public unrest related to police brutality, New York City has now launched its text-to-911 capability.

Text-to-911 has long been underway in New York, with the city noting earlier this year it would have the capability online by June. New York has now met that schedule, and residents there can now use the text capabilities on their phones to contact 911 when in need of emergency assistance.

Associate editor for Government Technology magazine.