SPRINGFIELD, Illinois, May 4, 2011 - Later today, at 2 p.m. CT, the Partnership for a Connected Illinois will kick off our "Wednesday Webinar" series, beginning with a discussion about the Illinois Broadband Map. Registration for this event is free.
PCI feels so passionately about the Illinois Broadband Map because data and information should be central to helping promote sound policies, and because evidence suggests that broadband is a key driver of job creation and economic activity.
In both of these beliefs, the Partnership for a Connected Illinois shares the enthusiasm for broadband -- and for data -- of President Barack Obama. As stated by his first director of the Office of Management and Budget, Peter Orszag, in a speech to the National Academies:
The president has made it very clear that policy decisions should be driven by evidence—accentuating the role of federal statistics as a resource for policymakers. Robust, unbiased data are the first step toward addressing our long-term economic needs and key policy priorities. (http://www.amstat.org/outreach/pdfs/SP_ANJul09.pdf)
As the designated entity for broadband in Illinois, PCI participates in the State Broadband Initiative (SBI). This initiative has the promise of becoming a major driver for data-driven processes and improvements in our information economy. And last Thursday and Friday, entities from every state, five U.S. territories, and the District of Columbia gathered in Dallas to share the experiences that each of us have had with broadband data and mapping.
Organizational Structure of PCI: Data, Access and Impact
The structure for State Broadband initiative was first put in place by the Broadband Data Improvement Act (BDIA), which passed Congress in October 2008. BDIA created a structure whereby state governmental and non-profit entities could be selected to receive federal funds for broadband data collection, mapping and other "planning" functions pertaining to high-speed access. Illinois was ahead of its time in passing similar legislation in 2007.
The BDIA didn't provide any federal funding. But with the passage of the American Recovery and Reinventment Act (ARRA) four months later - in February 2009 - Congress provided up to $350 million funds to be spent on broadband statistics, mapping, information collection, and planning grants. This was awarded through the U.S. Commerce Department's National Telecommunications and Information Administration.
Think of this sum -- roughly five percent of the $7 billion that was allocated to broadband investment across the nation -- as a key means of data-gathering and analysis. It was to drive and improve broadband investment nation-wide.
The Partnership for a Connected Illinois was eager to participate in the SBI conference program in Dallas, Texas, where we shared stories and experiences with other awardees from around the nation. In particular, we found that our structure -- as an independent non-profit organization, funded by the federal government, the State, and by private foundations (Organization chart for PCI) -- may provide a model for others in the nation.
In particular, PCI doesn't isolate or segregate any of our three core missions: (a) to collect and publish broadband data; (b) to drive enhanced high-speed access throughout Illinois; and (c) to ensure that the impact of broadband network are maximized and well-used such that they enhance job creation and economic growth.
Strengthening the Broadband Map By Leveraging Relationships With Broadband Providers
In meeting with officials at other SBI-funded entities throughout the country, PCI learned about the diversity of agencies and entities that house broadband information-collection and planning. Sometimes this function is lodged with a public utility commission, or in state information technology departments, or with economic development agencies, or at a university. In many cases, "mapping" is housed in one place and "planning" is governed by another entity or sub-awardee.
Each of these approaches has advantages. But as an independent, State-wide non-profit, PCI enjoys the opportunity to fully integrate our data-collection into the promotion of broadband access and efforts to maximize its impact.
In today's webinar, PCI will address and showcase how -- through the National Broadband Map that was first published on February 17, 2011 -- users in Illinois can access PCI data about Illinois broadband providers. We'll also discuss the process that PCI has employed in collecting broadband data from the providers in our State.
But the real power comes in what happens next: leveraging data and maps to promote broadband access and to maximize its use. Therefore, being able to look at and understanding the data that PCI has, and the data that PCI doesn't yet have, is crucial. As we look at the National Broadband Map today, for example, PCI will demonstrate various ways to look at and view broadband availability information within Illinois itself.
How the State Broadband Initiative Can Help Promote Economic Development
Soon, we'll see even greater impacts as PCI begins to fully implement its eTeams, or our regional efforts to support technology and economic development planning activities. At today’s webinar, in addition to discussing the National Broadband Map, and the data-collection processes that led up to it, PCI will discuss the current Illinois Broadband Map, at http://broadbandillinois.org. This features data collected by PCI, and is displayed in a fashion easy for consumers to access, to follow -- and to verify.
Indeed, many individuals have noted that the data in a national or state broadband map is only as valuable as it is correct. That's why we're working to increase the ability for everyday users, and for eTeams, to assist in this verification process.
Today's demonstration will showcase the basic broadband map on our web site, at broadbandillinois.org. It will also highlight a separate map, dubbed BroadbandStat, built for PCI by ESRI. PCI staff will lead webinar participants through both mapping tools, and invite user engagement and feedback on our next steps.
PCI has always recognized that data about broadband availability is only a tool in ensuring that local communities are able to advance broadband access and use. Just as Illinois has been successful in leveraging federal dollars under the U.S. Commerce Department's Broadband Technologies Opportunity Program (BTOP), and the U.S. Agriculture Department's Broadband Infrastructure Program (BIP), PCI aims to help the State -- and its regions, counties and towns -- to find ways to make broadband investments more feasible, and to help accelerate the impacts that come from its increased adoption and use.
This Expert Opinion originally appeared on Broadband Illinois, at http://broadbandillinois.org/news/27. "On Broadband" is the column written by Drew Clark, Executive Director of the Partnership for a Connected Illinois.