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What’s New in Digital Equity: NY Releases State Broadband Maps

Plus, Texas has released its initial 2022 broadband plan; Kentucky is investing more than $200 million in high-speed Internet; the GSA has announced its first cohort of 40 U.S. Digital Corps fellows; and more.

State capitol in Albany, New York
The New York State Public Service Commission (PSC) just unveiled a statewide, interactive broadband map.

The map gives stakeholders in the state’s expansion efforts an additional resource to rely on, building on the federal data that was previously available. The federal data may designate an entire census block as “served” with only one address receiving service; this statewide map provides address-level data to enable a better, more granular-level understanding of which areas are unserved or underserved.

“With this mapping in hand, we can see where to direct state and federal broadband funding to connect unserved and underserved areas,” Gov. Kathy Hochul said in the announcement.

The map, available for public use by New York residents and policymakers alike, lets users search an address to see what providers are available and what technology, speeds and pricing those providers are offering. Users can also search by county, municipality or school district to find what percentage of that area is served.

The Public Service Commission’s effort to create this map has been underway since 2021, and has since surveyed tens of thousands of consumers in the state in collaboration with 60 Internet service providers.

The commission found that while 97.4 percent of address locations are served, those rates of connectivity are much lower for rural areas like Hamilton County, where only 70.2 percent are served.

In addition to the map, PSC released a related report to share the information found through field assessments and surveying. The report provides information on the state’s broadband expansion efforts, related legislation, resources and future recommendations.

The map and report support the work of the ConnectALL initiative, which aims to connect every New Yorker to high-speed Internet access. ConnectALL will include grant programs at both the state and federal level, led by Empire State Development (ESD). This map will help those coordinating these programs to distribute the available funding in an equitable way to the areas with the greatest need.

“These maps will go a long way in allowing the ConnectALL office to effectively direct funding that will benefit all New Yorkers,” said ESD president, CEO and Commissioner Hope Knight in the announcement. (Julia Edinger)

TEXAS RELEASES 2022 BROADBAND PLAN


The Texas Broadband Development Office has released its 2022 plan for the state, noting that according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau, 2.8 million households and 7 million people lack Internet access in the state.

This plan comes as Texas is slated to get quite a bit of federal money in support of Internet access, including $500.5 million from the American Rescue Plan Act as well as at least $100 million from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. The plan is in part an effort to prepare to spend this money in places and in ways that will make a difference.

To shape the plan, the Texas Broadband Development Office embarked on what officials called a Texas Broadband Listening Tour in March. This saw stakeholders conducting regional town hall meetings in 12 communities across the state, wherein members of the community shared their experiences with Internet. To augment the tour, the state also solicited information via a broadband survey that has collected at least 16,000 responses.

The findings from all of this were varied, although some commonalities emerged.

“Sentiment has been consistent,” officials wrote of their findings, “slow data speeds, unreliable access, affordability and coordination are critical areas of concern for Texas families, businesses, educators and farmers. An important, recurring theme has been the reminder that though high-speed Internet may once have been a luxury, it is now a necessity. Texans need reliable, high-speed connectivity for public health, safety, education and modern agriculture.”

Interested parties can download the full Texas Broadband Plan for 2022 now via the state comptroller website. (Zack Quaintance)

FIRST COHORT OF U.S. DIGITAL CORPS FELLOWS REVEALED


In recent weeks, 13 federal agencies have been preparing to welcome the first cohort of U.S. Digital Corps fellows. And this week, the Biden-Harris administration has formally welcomed the first 40 participants. Launched last year, the U.S. Digital Corps will introduce early career technologists to a chance to hone their skills by working on real government issues in a two-year program.

Originally slated to include 30 participants, the pool of over 1,000 applications led to a decision to widen this initial cohort to include 40 fellows. It includes veterans, technologists from other fields and recent graduates. Eighty-three percent of this group are first-time federal employees.

Applications for the second cohort will open later this year, and due to demand from additional federal government agencies, the cohort size may expand to include even more fellows in the future.

To better get to know who the first fellows are, visit the U.S. Digital Corps website. (Julia Edinger)

KENTUCKY TO INVEST $203M IN HIGH-SPEED INTERNET


Kentucky is preparing to invest $203 million to support high-speed Internet availability and adoption within the state, officials there have announced.

The state estimates the money will help bring reliable and affordable high-speed Internet to 34,000 Kentuckians who previously did not have access to it.

Logistically, the state government will be giving out 46 grant awards totaling $89.1 million, and these will go to 12 Internet service providers or local governments that have a presence in 35 different Kentucky counties. The money will surge to the $203 million via pledges that the grant recipients have made to match or exceed the governmental contributions. Awardees were determined by a Request for Proposal process conducted in August 2021.

The 12 entities getting this money are Charter Communications; the Frankfort Plant Board; Pennyrile Rural Electric Cooperative; West Kentucky Rural Telephone Co-op Corporation; Cumberland Cellular; South Central Telecom; Gibson Connect; Boone County Fiscal Court; Duo County Telephone Cooperative; Bardstown Connect; Crystal Broadband Networks; and Tri-County Electric.

The money for the awards comes from a Kentucky legislative action that allocated $300 million of federal American Rescue Plan Act money to help bring high-speed Internet to unserved or underserved areas of the state. (Zack Quaintance)

NLC REPORT FINDS MAYORS SEE BROADBAND AS A PRIORITY


The National League of Cities (NLC) has released a report to explore the top issues mayors addressed in their State of the City addresses. The report found that the top four mayoral priorities this year based on these addresses are infrastructure, economic development, budget and management, and public safety.

Under infrastructure, the report lists broadband spending as a priority, among grey infrastructure needs. The report cites the potential for infrastructure investment through federal funding opportunities like the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act and the American Rescue Plan Act.

Although not declared a top-four priority in the report, government data and technology made the top 10 priorities from mayoral state of the city speeches from 2015-2022, as did energy and environment. (Julia Edinger)

NTIA RELEASES NEW BROADBAND GUIDANCE VIA FAQS


Finally, with the federal government investing a historic amount of money into broadband and digital equity work, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) has now released three sets of frequently asked questions aimed at helping interested parties navigate the programs involved.

The first is centered on the Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment Program (BEAD); the second is about a portion of the Digital Equity Act; and the third involves the Enabling Middle Mile Broadband Infrastructure Program that was authorized as part of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. (Zack Quaintance)
Julia Edinger is a staff writer for Government Technology. 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.
Associate editor for <i>Government Technology</i> magazine