This is a guest post by Karen Perry, senior policy analyst with the National Telecommunication and Information Administration’s BroadbandUSA program.
Across America, broadband and digital technologies power businesses — making the lack of broadband a drag on local economic growth.
From high tech corridors in Boston, Miami, and Dallas to industrial zones around Lake Michigan, Detroit, and Southern Appalachia — and in downtowns in every city and town across America — civic leaders have realized that an investment in policies that promote broadband infrastructure deployment is an investment in their future.
How can civic leaders ensure that their communities have the needed broadband connectivity to strengthen current businesses, catalyze local entrepreneurs, and attract new investment?
Here are five strategies to put your city on track for better broadband connectivity:
Establish a connectivity vision. Creating a well-connected city is not a matter of chance. It’s not a single step, a single investment, or a single plan. It is a series of policies, investments, and partnerships that realize your vision. Without a vision, policies and investments will be fragmented and results will be limited. The vision can be set by the Mayor or Council, by a broadband task force or steering community, or by the economic development council. Engage stakeholders to refine the vision and build community commitment.
Assess broadband capabilities and needs. Sometimes broadband needs are self-evident – like when residents or business-owners walk into City Hall with complaints about service gaps or when your economic development officer says that a new business prospect selected another location with better connectivity. To get a more complete picture, consider conducting a survey or holding an open meeting. Evaluating the broadband deployment data that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) collects from service providers could also be helpful. A good place to start is the FCC Fixed Broadband Deployment Map which lists providers that serve your community, what technologies they use, and what speeds they offer. Although this data could be more accurate and accessible, it provides broadband availability data nationwide. Your state may have additional data available. Perhaps most important, the FCC tool helps identify the providers that are currently in your region – businesses that may become partners in achieving your connectivity vision.
Leverage public assets and investments. When cities make local assets available for provider use, they can reduce costs, streamline deployment, and incent investment. Government staff can create a comprehensive inventory of public assets that providers may use to offset deployment costs. This could include conduit, fiber, vertical assets like poles and street lights, public structures, real estate, or power facilities. In addition to physical resources, catalogue the city’s investments in telecommunications. Could those investments be directed or rebid in ways that encourage new public-private partnerships?
Develop investment-friendly deployment policies.Broadband-friendly deployment policies are business-friendly policies. A permit and rights-of-way authorization kit can help service providers understand the steps needed to deploy equipment and infrastructure in your city. Online applications that clearly state response intervals provide clarity for providers. Another tool could be establishing a dig-once policy so that carriers can install fiber when street work is being done, and creating simple lease agreements for providers. More information on these concepts is available in the BroadbandUSA publication: Implementing a Broadband Network Vision: A Toolkit for Local and Tribal Governments.
Engage partners. With a connectivity vision, an understanding of needs and assets, and a strong set of investment-friendly policies, city leaders are poised for detailed conversations with existing or new service providers to find solutions that are wise and efficient, fair and long-lasting. Service providers make choices on where to invest, but community clarity, available assets, and business-friendly policies can improve the business case and create the foundation for a true partnership. A number of state and federal programs provide grants and loans to support broadband deployments. You can learn about federal funding opportunities in the BroadbandUSA: Guide to Federal Funding of Broadband Projects.
NTIA will host a special Infrastructure Week webinar on Successful Models and Best Practices for Rural Broadband Deployment. The webinar will be on Wednesday, May 16th at 2:00 pm ET/11:00 am PT. Register here.
The National League of Cities and National Telecommunications and Information Administration’s BroadbandUSA have additional resources to help, including online resources available now. Contact us at Panettieri@nlc.org or BroadbandUSA@ntia.doc.gov to share your stories or let us know how we can help accelerate broadband deployment in your community.
This article originally ran on citiesspeak.org.