Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond

06/18/2021 | News release | Distributed by Public on 06/18/2021 06:26

Broadband Summit Shares Strategies

More than 100 guests from across the nation participated in the Richmond Fed's inaugural Broadband Summit on June 8 to gain insight into steps their states can take to reduce the digital divide.

The theme for the virtual event was 'Strategies for Accelerating Broadband Deployment,' and it was co-hosted by The Pew Charitable Trusts.

'Our goal was to highlight effective state broadband policies, and at the regional and local level, innovative public-private partnerships to accelerate broadband infrastructure deployment,' said Richmond Fed regional economist Alex Marre.

Richmond Fed President Tom Barkin provided opening remarks in which he emphasized how critical a time this is to focus on broadband expansion.

'Though the last year has made it prominent, the critical need for broadband pre-dates the pandemic, and so do the disparities in access,' he said. 'It's widely perceived that lack of access is mostly a rural problem, but the story is not that simple. Many people in urban areas also don't have access to, or can't afford, reliable broadband - which we heard a lot when we spoke to educators in our recent District Dialogues series.'

With billions of dollars now available to states and communities that are grappling with broadband needs, access to resources is no longer a problem. Instead, there's a dire need to understand how best to distribute and leverage these resources, Barkin said.

'What stands between the tens of billions that have been allocated and the communities that need it? Delivering the last mile, which will require awareness, capacity, simplification and alignment.'

Barkin expounded upon those four areas in his comments, and they also were touched on by other participants in the summit. Other guests for the half-day program included Evan Feinman, chief broadband advisor for the Office of Virginia Governor Ralph S. Northam; Peggy Schaffer, executive director of the Connect Maine Authority; Emily You, broadband grants manager for the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development; Jimmy Carr, CEO of All Points Broadband; Natalie Roper, executive director of Generation West Virginia; and James Stritzinger Jr., broadband coordinator for the South Carolina Office of Regulatory Staff.

Discussions centered on the need to revamp the nation's current infrastructure and fiber networks to bring everyone up to speed, to provide subsidies to individuals and families who can't afford broadband costs, and to offer free wireless networks in as many low-density rural areas and low-income urban areas as possible.

Attendees also participated in interactive breakout sessions focused on each state in the Fifth District - comprised of Virginia, Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina, Washington D.C. and most of West Virginia. They discussed ways to reduce the barriers to broadband expansion in their state.

'We appreciate Pew partnering with us to host this important event, and we hope that everyone who participated received some ideas that will help them move their states' efforts forward more efficiently and effectively,' said David Bass, senior regional outreach specialist in the Richmond Fed's Economic Education Department.

The 2021 Broadband Summit can be viewed on the Bank's YouTube channel.