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What's New in Civic Tech: Kamala Harris to Tackle Broadband

Plus, Maine rolls out an innovation challenge around advancing the state's clean energy sector; New Mexico welcomes an aerospace-technology collaborative program hub; Microsoft shares open data campaign tips; and more.

Vice President Kamala Harris will tackle broadband expansion with a focus on rural areas, President Joe Biden announced during his first address to a joint session of Congress.

Biden did so after stressing the importance of the country having reliable broadband infrastructure as well as making sure people are able to access it, saying, “It creates jobs connecting every American with high-speed Internet, including 35 percent of rural America that still doesn't have it. It's going to help our kids and our businesses succeed in the 21st century economy. And I'm asking the vice president to lead this effort if she would, because I know it will get done."

Obviously, the exact nature of what Harris will be doing as well as how she will help facilitate getting folks connected was not part of the remarks. Still, tasking the vice president with solving this issue is perhaps the most direct commitment an American president has made to the issue. Harris, it should be noted, made broadband access a prominent part of her own campaign for president before bowing out of the race, proposing an $80 billion investment in broadband with a goal of connecting 100 percent of the country by 2024.

Biden’s proclamation also comes after broadband was included in the administration’s $2.3 trillion infrastructure proposal, which suggested putting roughly $100 billion into broadband expansion.

Broadband has also attracted the attention of elected leaders at the state level across the country, with the topic ranking as one of the most mentioned tech-related issues in the state of the states addresses by American governors. While this issue — as well as its sister issue, digital equity — has been one that some advocates have worked on for many years, it was brought into stark focus by the COVID-19 pandemic, which required the vast majority of people to take to shelter at home and use the Internet to access services from employment to education to telehealth.

This created a set of tangible evidence that at some point during the world’s rapid digitization of the past two decades, access to the Internet had gone from a relative luxury to an absolute necessity, a utility similar to water or electricity in the United States of 2021. (Zack Quaintance)

Maine Announces $500,000 Clean Energy Innovation Challenge

Maine is launching a new clean energy innovation challenge, aimed at advancing the state's clean energy sector, officials have announced.

Dubbed the Maine Clean Energy Innovation Challenge, the new program is a joint initiative between the Governor’s Energy Office (GEO) and the Maine Technology Institute (MTI). It will make $500,000, allocated by MTI, available to clean energy startups.

The challenge follows Maine’s adoption of ambitious clean energy and climate goals. It was created, in part, to increase both the state’s investment in research and development and its number of clean energy jobs per capita.

The challenge, announced on Earth Day, seeks to develop new companies, create jobs and spur innovation in the state’s clean energy economy. It is the second joint effort on clean energy with GEO and MTI this year, following a collaborative effort to support Maine’s entrance in the Cleantech Open. (Julia Edinger)

New Mexico Welcomes New Aerospace and Technology Hub

New Mexico is welcoming a new aerospace and technology hub funded in part by a $750,000 grant from the U.S. Economic Development Administration, stakeholders announced.

Dubbed Q Station, the hub is a collaboration between the Air Force Research Lab (AFRL), the Albuquerque Economic Development Department and other economic development organizations in Albuquerque, where the hub will be located in the city's historic Nob Hill neighborhood.

As the announcement notes, "Q Station is designed to allow aerospace, directed energy and related tech companies to work more seamlessly with government entities and private industry to encourage better, faster innovation."

More information about Q Station can be found here. (Julia Edinger)

Microsoft Shares 10 Lessons from Year One of Open Data Campaign

Microsoft recently finished the first year of a data campaign aimed at helping public- and private-sector entities alike close data gaps in the service of innovation. Now, the company has shared 10 lessons it learned from that work.

Many of the lessons are often discussed in public-sector technology and innovation circles, including the value in pilot projects, being ready to pivot and data visualizations to show the value of a collaboration. In addition, there are also some less heralded lessons that Microsoft is stressing, including data collaborations can start without data.

It's all interesting, and you can read more about it on a Microsoft blog. Microsoft also noted that its work in this area will continue during the year ahead. (Zack Quaintance)


BroadbandCivic Tech
Associate editor for Government Technology magazine.
Julia Edinger is a staff writer for <i>Government Technology</i>. She has a bachelor's degree in English from the University of Toledo and has since worked in publishing and media. She's currently located in Southern California.