Year in Review 2022: Broadband, Securing Infrastructure
In our look back at 2022, March and April headlines tracked how states and localities were expanding high-speed Internet and pushing digital equity initiatives, while also meeting the growing demand for online services.
Two years into the COVID-19 pandemic, cases of the virus were largely down, but a host of unanticipated challenges were left in its wake. The Justice Department reported it had found $8 billion in fraud through coronavirus relief programs, potentially a very low estimate of the real number. And places like San Diego County, Calif., declared COVID-19 misinformation a public health crisis, standing up a website to help combat commonly believed myths and reaching out to the community in person and via text message to spread awareness.
With $2.75 billion in the IIJA earmarked for digital equity, perhaps one silver lining of the pandemic is that it laid bare the importance of ensuring that everyone has an equal opportunity to benefit from technology through Internet connections, device access and skills training. Experts estimated that the number of digital inclusion training programs nationwide was three or even four times what it was pre-COVID as local governments, like Charlotte, N.C., and Caldwell County, Texas, worked on the ground with communities to close the digital divide.
As federal funding — $65 billion from the IIJA — began to flow to help states and localities get high-speed Internet to everyone, the windfall came with its own set of challenges. Even the states that had well-established broadband offices, like Maine, had never had that kind of capital at their disposal and grappled with how to make the most impact with it. Some cities continued a push toward a municipal broadband offering, like Fort Collins, Colo., which aimed to get its utility up by the end of the summer. And the question of who is and is not served by existing coverage is not an easy one. Existing maps from the FCC are widely considered insufficient, so while that agency works to update them, some jurisdictions, like Louisville, Ky., and Wisconsin, have undertaken their own efforts to plot coverage.
In ongoing work to solve the first-mile/last-mile transit problem, mobility hubs are gaining popularity as ways to bring together micromobility, ride-sharing and even EV charging in one place. Six hubs in a Columbus, Ohio, neighborhood, for example, include free public Wi-Fi and informational kiosks, and have been the origin or destination for 1,000 bike-share trips since their launch in July 2020. Similar efforts are underway in Pittsburgh, Boston and Minneapolis, and transit experts see mobility hubs as a good fit for busy cities and a vital component of the future of urban transit.
The steady march toward robust digital services continued in 2022. Virtual justice, for one, is getting smoother, as a study of remote hearings in Texas attests. It found that remote proceedings take longer than in-person hearings because many more people can participate. Court systems may also need to hire technology bailiffs to keep virtual justice glitch-free. More states are also moving toward digital driver’s licenses. Additional momentum is coming from Apple, which added the ability to include a digital ID in Apple Wallet in several more states this year. Many digital services efforts are focused on equity, like a new affordable housing portal in Newark, N.J., that offers a searchable platform for residents to find places to live in their price range.
Does government care about crypto? The wide world of digital currency has captured the attention of many a state legislature, with 37 states considering related bills in the 2022 session. While some like Colorado are laying groundwork for accepting virtual currency to pay for things, including state taxes, others like Hawaii are looking to regulate digital currency companies themselves. Many other states, including North Dakota, are focused on growing cryptocurrency-related industry. The Biden administration issued an executive order in March aimed at gaining a better understanding of crypto’s risks and developing a national policy centered on responsible innovation.