Building Digital Access: NTIA Partners with Tennessee on Broadband Summit

by Doug Kinkoph, Associate Administrator, Office of Telecommunications and Information Applications

Nationwide broadband connectivity is the aspirational goal bringing together broadband leaders for the March 20 Tennessee Broadband Summit in Nashville. The event, sponsored jointly by NTIA and the Tennessee Department of Economic & Community Development, is an all-day program with workshops and problem-solving presentations from industry, state and local leaders, and community groups working to build connectivity options throughout the state.

Strong leadership at every level of government can lead to increased broadband deployment. New opportunities through the Tennessee Broadband Accessibility Act and other state and Federal initiatives are vital tools that can help increase broadband accessibility. Also encouraging is the increase in broadband leadership from states, as evidenced in the strong participation at a recent meeting in Washington, D.C. of state broadband leaders across the country to discuss the types of challenges, programs, and investments that are happening at the state level.

At the federal level, President Trump has made broadband a key priority. When he was in Nashville earlier this year, the President issued executive orders to streamline permitting, remove regulatory barriers, and make more federal towers available to commercial service providers. We have made progress in each of those areas.

NTIA Assistant Secretary David Redl underscored the agency’s ongoing commitment to expanding broadband in recent congressional testimony: “NTIA’s strategy capitalizes on strong relationships with broadband providers, state and local organizations, innovation economy firms, non-profit organizations, foundations, and other Federal stakeholders.”

To inform this process, good broadband data is critical for helping to reduce regulatory barriers, and better coordinate federal programs that fund broadband infrastructure. While the trend to leverage open data to measure outcomes is accelerating, it can still be a struggle to get accurate and usable data to support the business investments and policy changes needed to fill broadband gaps and ensure access for all.

NTIA wants to work to improve data accuracy by working with Internet service providers (ISPs) and with partners like the State of Tennessee and other states. The agency’s longstanding relationships with ISPs and state broadband leaders can be helpful in this effort. NTIA also hopes to add new datasets to provide context to data already collected to get more detailed information that will assist buildout plans.

One example is the agency’s Digital Nation survey of computer and Internet usage that goes out to over 50,000 households. Results from the latest survey will be available later this year with trend information on computer use for people ages 2 and up, covering devices from laptops to smartphones and wearables. This data and other new datasets from the U.S. Census Bureau provide important context for leaders making the investment decisions that will drive the next wave of infrastructure deployment and application development.

The final ingredient is investment -- from all sectors of the economy. Some of these investments will be in funding and financing; some will be in fiber, cable, and wireless technologies; some will be in purchase contracts or new public-private partnership; and some will invest in programs, training, and innovation. Traditional carriers, wireless and electric coops have invested billions, and local leaders are finding ways to streamline regulations and leverage public assets. It will take a combination of all these efforts to expand broadband infrastructure throughout the country.