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Connecting America, Chapter 2: ‘Goals for a High-Performance America’

THE MISSION OF THE PLAN is to create a high-performance America—a more productive, creative, efficient America in which affordable broadband is available everywhere and everyone has the means and skills to use valuable broadband applications.

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Editor’s Note: As BroadbandBreakfast.com begins publishing summaries of the national broadband plan, and commentaries on it, we also here reproduce the actual text of Chapter 2 of “Connecting America: The National Broadband Plan,” as produced by the Federal Communications Communications Commission. Chapter 2 is available here; the plan is available in PDF form at http://broadband.gov/download-plan

THE MISSION OF THE PLAN is to create a high-performance America—a more productive, creative, efficient America in which affordable broadband is available everywhere and everyone has the means and skills to use valuable broadband applications.

The importance of broadband continues to grow around the world. High-performing companies, countries and citizens are using broadband in new, more effective ways. Some countries have recognized this already and are trying to get ahead of the curve. South Korea, Japan, Australia, Sweden, Finland and Germany, among others, have already developed broadband plans.

A high-performance America cannot stand by as other countries charge into the digital era. In the country where the Internet was born, we cannot watch passively while other nations lead the world in its utilization. We should be the leading exporter of broadband technology—high-value goods and services that drive enduring economic growth and job creation. And we should be the leading user of broadband-enabled technologies that help businesses increase their productivity, help government improve its openness and efficiency, and give consumers new ways to communicate, work and entertain themselves.

To ensure we lead the world, this plan addresses the troubling gaps and unrealized opportunities in broadband in America by recommending ways federal, state and local governments can unleash private investment, innovation, lower prices and better options for consumers. Its recommendations fall into four general categories:

  • Design policies to ensure robust competition and, as a result, maximize consumer welfare, innovation and investment.
  • Ensure efficient allocation and management of assets government controls or influences, such as spectrum, poles, and rights-of-way, to encourage network upgrades and competitive entry.
  • Reform current universal service mechanisms to support deployment of broadband and voice in high-cost areas; and ensure that low-income Americans can afford broadband; and in addition, support efforts to boost adoption and utilization.
  • Reform laws, policies, standards and incentives to maximize the benefits of broadband in sectors government influences significantly, such as public education, health care and government operations.

Across these categories, this plan offers recommendations for the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), the Executive Branch, Congress, states and other parties. But to ensure we are on the right path, the country should set longterm goals and benchmarks to chart our progress. The plan recommends that the country set the following six goals for 2020 to serve as a compass over the next decade.

GOAL No. 1: At least 100 million U.S. homes should have affordable access to actual download speeds of at least 100 megabits per second and actual upload speeds of at least 50 megabits per second.

The United States must lead the world in the number of homes and people with access to affordable, world-class broadband connections. As such, 100 million U.S. homes should have affordable access to actual download speeds of at least 100 Mbps and actual upload speeds of at least 50 Mbps by 2020. This will create the world’s most attractive market for broadband applications, devices and infrastructure.

The plan has recommendations to foster competition, drive demand for increased network performance and lower the cost of deploying infrastructure. These recommendations include providing consumers with information about the actual performance of broadband services, reviewing wholesale access policies and conducting more thorough data collection to monitor and benchmark competitive behavior. Reforming access to rights-of-way can lower the cost of upgrades and entry for all firms. Increased spectrum availability and use for backhaul can enable more capable wireless networks that will drive wired providers to improve network performance and ensure service is affordable.

Government can also help create demand for more broadband by enabling new applications across our most important national priorities, including health care, education and energy, and by ensuring consumers have full control of their personal data.

As a milestone, by 2015, 100 million U.S. homes should have affordable access to actual download speeds of 50 Mbps and actual upload speeds of 20 Mbps.

GOAL No. 2: The United States should lead the world in mobile innovation, with the fastest and most extensive wireless networks of any nation.

Mobile broadband is growing at unprecedented rates. From smartphones to app stores to e-book readers to remote patient monitoring to tracking goods in transit and more, mobile services and technologies are driving innovation and playing an increasingly important role in our lives and our economy. Mobile broadband is the next great challenge and opportunity for the United States. It is a nascent market in which the United States should lead.

Spectrum policy is the most important lever government has to help ensure wireless and mobile broadband thrive. Efficient allocation of spectrum consistent with the public interest will maximize its value to society. It will lower network deployment costs, making it easier for new companies to compete and enabling lower prices, more investment and better performance.

Today, the FCC has only 50 megahertz of spectrum in the pipeline that it can assign for broadband use, just a fraction of the amount that will be necessary to match growing demand. As a result, companies representing 5% of the U.S. economy asked the FCC to make more spectrum available for mobile broadband, saying that “without more spectrum, America’s global leadership in innovation and technology is threatened.”1

To achieve this goal of leading the world in mobile broadband, the plan recommends making 500 megahertz of spectrum newly available for broadband by 2020, with a benchmark of making 300 megahertz available by 2015. In addition, we should ensure greater transparency in spectrum allocation and utilization, reserve spectrum for unlicensed use and make more spectrum available for opportunistic and secondary uses.

GOAL No. 3: Every American should have affordable access to robust broadband service, and the means and skills to subscribe if they so choose.

Not having access to broadband applications limits an individual’s ability to participate in 21st century American life. Health care, education and other important aspects of American life are moving online. What’s more, government services and democratic participation are shifting to digital platforms. This plan recommends government use the Internet to increase its own transparency and make more of its data available online. Getting everyone online will improve civic engagement—a topic this plan also addresses by recommending a more robust digital public ecosystem.

Three requirements must be satisfied to ensure every American can take advantage of broadband. First, every American home must have access to network services. Second, every household should be able to afford that service. Third, every American should have the opportunity to develop digital skills.

The plan recommends reforming existing support mechanisms to foster deployment of broadband in high-cost areas: specifically, the Universal Service Fund and intercarrier compensation. The plan outlines a 10-year, three-stage course of action to transform these programs to connect those who do not have access to adequate broadband infrastructure.2 Rather than add new burdens to the already strained contribution base, we must make the tough choice to shift existing support that is not advancing public policy goals in order to directly focus those resources on communities unserved by broadband.

To promote affordability, this plan also proposes extending the Lifeline and Link-Up programs to support broadband. To promote digital skills, we need to ensure every American has access to relevant, age-appropriate digital literacy education, for free, in whatever language they speak, and we neeed to create a Digital Literacy Corps.

Achieving this goal will likely lead to an adoption rate higher than 90% by 2020 and reduced differences in broadband adoption among demographic groups.

To the end, government can make broadband more accessible to people with disabilities. It can also work with Tribal governments to finally improve broadband deployment and adoption on Tribal lands.3 And it can ensure small businesses— many of which are owned by women and minorities—have the opportunity to purchase broadband service at reasonable rates.

GOAL No. 4: Every American community should have affordable access to at least 1 gigabit per second broadband service to anchor institutions such as schools, hospitals and government buildings.

Schools, libraries and health care facilities must all have the connectivity they need to achieve their purposes. This connectivity can unleash innovation that improves the way we learn, stay healthy and interact with government.

If this plan succeeds, every American community will have affordable access to far better broadband performance than they enjoy today. To do so, the plan makes recommendations about reforming the E-rate and the Rural Health Care support programs. Second, non-profit and public institutions should be able to find efficient alternatives for greater connectivity through aggregated efforts.

What’s more, unleashing the power of new broadband applications to solve previously intractable problems will drive new connectivity demands. The plan makes numerous recommendations, including reforming incentive structures, licensing and data interoperability, to ensure public priorities take advantage of the benefits broadband networks, applications and devices offer. If they are implemented, demand for connectivity in hospitals, schools, libraries and government buildings will soar.

In some communities, gigabit connectivity may not be limited to anchor institutions. Certain applications could also require ultra-high-speed connectivity at home. And once community anchors are connected to gigabit speeds, it would presumably become less expensive and more practical to get the same speeds to homes.

GOAL No. 5: To ensure the safety of the American people, every first responder should have access to a nationwide, wireless, interoperable broadband public safety network.

In June 2004, the 9/11 Commission released its final report about events of September 11, 2001. The report found that “the inability to communicate was a critical element” at each of the“crash sites, where multiple agencies and multiple jurisdictions responded.” They concluded: “Compatible and adequate communications among public safety organizations at the local, state, and federal levels remains an important problem.”4

It remains a problem more than five years later. Often, first responders from different jurisdictions cannot communicate at the scene of an emergency. Federal officials can rarely communicate with state and local officials. Officials from different towns and cities have difficulties communicating with each other. What’s more, with few exceptions, current networks do not take advantage of broadband capability, limiting their capacity to transmit data and hindering potential innovations in public safety that could save lives.

The country should create a nationwide, wireless, interoperable broadband public safety network by 2020. The network should be robust enough to maintain performance in the aftermath of a disaster, and should allow every first responder, regardless of jurisdiction or agency, to communicate with each other and share real-time data over high-speed connections. Chapter 16 outlines recommendations to make this goal a reality.

GOAL No. 6: To ensure that America leads in the clean energy economy, every American should be able to use broadband to track and manage their real-time energy consumption.

America can no longer rely on fossil fuels and imported oil. To improve national security, reduce pollution and increase national competitiveness, the United States must lead, not follow, in the clean energy economy. Encouraging renewable power, grid storage and vehicle electrification are important steps to improve American energy independence and energy efficiency; to enable these technologies at scale, the country will need to modernize the electric grid with broadband and advanced communications.

Studies have repeatedly demonstrated that when people get feedback on their electricity usage, they make simple behavioral changes that save energy.5 Real-time data can also inform automated thermostats and appliances, allowing consumers to save energy and money while helping the country reduce the need for expensive new power plants.

Chapter 12 outlines specific recommendations to ensure that consumers can use broadband to gain access to and improve their control of their real-time energy information. With strong cybersecurity and privacy protections, consumers and their authorized third parties should be able to get access to real-time usage information from smart meters and historical billing information over the Internet.

CONCLUSION

To achieve these goals, it is not enough to simply state where we wish to be.* America needs a plan that creates a process to meet these targets and look beyond them. The chapters that follow offer specific recommendations to launch that process.

Part I of this plan makes recommendations to ensure that America has a world-leading broadband ecosystem for both fixed and mobile service. It discusses recommendations to maximize innovation, investment and consumer welfare, primarily through competition. It then recommends more efficient allocation and management of assets government controls or influences, such as spectrum, poles and rights-of-way, to maximize private sector investment and facilitate competition.

Part II makes recommendations to promote inclusion—to ensure that all Americans have access to the opportunities broadband can provide. These include reforming the Universal Service Fund and intercarrier compensation. It also makes recommendations to promote broadband affordability, adoption and digital literacy.

Part III makes recommendations to maximize the use of broadband to address national priorities. This includes reforming laws, policies and incentives to maximize the benefits of broadband in areas where government plays a significant role. This part makes recommendations to unleash innovation in health care, energy, education, government performance, civic engagement, job training, economic development and public safety.

Finally, the plan outlines an implementation strategy to ensure the country executes these recommendations, creates a dynamic process and meets each of the goals outlined here.

Before exploring any of these recommendations further, though, it is important to understand the current state of broadband in the United States, which is described in Chapter 3.

* In Shakespeare’s Henry IV, Welsh rebel Glendower tells his co-conspirator Hotspur: “I can call spirits from the vasty deep.” Hotspur responds, “Why, so can I, or so can any man; But will they come when you do call for them?” William Shakespeare, Henry IV, pt. I, act 3, sc. 1, 52–58.

1 Letter from 21st Century Telecommunications et al., Members of the Consumer Electronic Association et al., to Chairman Julius Genachowski and Commissioners, FCC, GN Docket No. 09-51 (Dec. 2, 2009) at 1 (filed by Consumer Electronics Association on behalf of 115 parties).

2 Omnibus Broadband Initiative, The Broadband Availability Gap (forthcoming).

3 For the purposes of the plan, “Tribal lands” is defined as any federally recognized Tribe’s reservation, pueblo, and colony, including former reservations in Oklahoma, Alaska Native regions established pursuant to the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act, Pub. L. No. 92-203, 85 Stat. 688 (1971), and Indian allotments. The term “Tribe” means any American Indian or Alaska Native Tribe, Band, Nation, Pueblo, Village, or Community, which is acknowledged by the Federal government to have a government-to-government relationship with the United States and is eligible for the programs and services established by the United States. See Statement of Policy on Establishing a Government-to-Government Relationship with Indian Tribes, Policy Statement, 16 FCC Rcd 4078, 4080 (2000). Thus, “Tribal lands” includes American Indian Reservations and Trust Lands, Tribal Jurisdiction Statistical Areas, Tribal Designated Statistical Areas, and Alaska Native Village Statistical Areas, as well as the communities situated on such lands. This would also include the lands of Native entities receiving Federal acknowledgement or recognition in the future.

4 9/11 Comm’n, The 9/11 Commission Report 39 (2004), available at http://www.9-11commission.gov/report/911Report.pdf.

5 Google Comments in re NBP PN #2 (Comment Sought on the Implementation of Smart Grid Technology—NBP Public Notice #2, GN Docket Nos. 09-47, 09-51, 09-137, Public Notice, 24 FCC Rcd 11747 (WCB 2009) (NBP PN #2)), filed Oct. 2, 2009, at 4.

The Federal Communications Commission is an independent agency of the federal government. Material produced by the FCC is free of copyright and in the public domain. Publication of the National Broadband Plan by BroadbandBreakfast.com does not imply endorsement of the plan by Broadband Census News LLC; nor does it imply support of Broadband Census News LLC by the FCC.

FCC

FCC Seeks Comment on Higher Broadband Speeds and Increased Security Measures for Certain Carriers

FCC will consider raising the speed standard for certain carriers that receive fixed monthly funding from the agency.

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Screenshot of FCC Commissioner Geoffrey Sparks

WASHINGTON, May 19, 2022 – The Federal Communications Commission voted at its open meeting Thursday to seek comment on enhancing the Alternative Connect America Cost Model program, which would raise speed deployment obligations and align security goals with the Infrastructure, Investment and Jobs Act.

The ACAM program, established in 2016, provides fixed monthly funding to certain carriers serving high-cost and hard-to-reach areas in return for commitments to provide broadband service to all eligible locations.

The ACAM broadband coalition requested that broadband deployment obligations be raised from the current federal standard of 25 Megabits per second download and 3 Mbps upload to 100/20 Mbps, the standard now set by the IIJA that will then be required of ACAM carriers to deliver.

Baseline cybersecurity proposal

The FCC is also requesting comment on whether it should “require A-CAM carriers and carriers receiving high-cost support to have a baseline cybersecurity and supply chain risk management plans.”

Commissioner Geoffrey Sparks indicated that the FCC will focus its efforts on harmonizing ACAM’s modification proposal with cyber security standards indicated in the Broadband, Equity, Access and Deployment program, which is managed by the Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration and that will be disbursing billions in broadband infrastructure funding.

“Networks that are subsidized or built with federal funds must be secure,” Sparks said. “This is evident in the constant barrage of attacks on American networks from hostile state and non-state actors.”

FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel, who said the FCC is looking to align its goals with the IIJA, concluded that “this is not the only effort we’re making to ensure that new broadband programs are working hand-in-glove with long-standing FCC efforts.”

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FCC

Treasury Department Joins FCC, USDA and NTIA in Collaborating on Broadband Funding

Agency leaders sign pact to formalize information-sharing on broadband deployment projects.

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Photo of Janet Yellen from January 2018 by the European Central Bank

WASHINGTON, May 13, 2022—Just in advance of the deadline for the release of the funding requirements under the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs act, the four principal federal agencies responsible for broadband funding released an interagency agreement to share information about and collaborate regarding the collection and reporting of certain data and metrics relating to broadband deployment.

The agencies are the Federal Communications Commission, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration of the Commerce Department, and the U.S. Department of the Treasury.

The Memorandum of Understanding is the latest development in federal efforts to coordinate high-speed internet spending, and the Treasury Department is the new addition to agreement.

The other three agencies signed a prior memorandum in June 2021 to coordinate the distribution of federal high-speed internet funds. That June 2021 Memorandum of Understanding remains in effect.

The respective Cabinet and Agency leaders announced that their agencies will consult with one another and share information on data collected from programs administered by the FCC, the USDA’s Rural Utilities Service, programs administered or coordinated by NTIA, and Treasury’s Coronavirus Capital Projects Fund and State and Local Fiscal Recovery Fund.

“No matter who you are or where you live in this country, you need access to high-speed internet to have a fair shot at 21st century success. The FCC, NTIA, USDA and Treasury are working together like never before to meet this shared goal,” said FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel. “Our new interagency agreement will allow us to collaborate more efficiently and deepen our current data sharing relationships[and] get everyone, everywhere connected to the high-speed internet they need.”

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said, “When we invest in rural infrastructure, we invest in the livelihoods and health of people in rural America. High-speed internet is the new electricity.  It is necessary for Americans to do their jobs, to participate equally in school learning, to have access to health care and to stay connected.”

“USDA remains committed to being a strong partner with rural communities and our state, Tribal and federal partners in building ‘future-proof’ broadband infrastructure in unserved and underserved areas so that we finally reach 100 percent high-speed broadband coverage across the country.”

“Our whole-of-government effort to expand broadband adoption must be coordinated and efficient if we are going to achieve our mission,” said Alan Davidson, Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Communications and Information and head of the NTIA, the agency responsible for administering the vast bulk of the broadband funding.

“This MOU will allow us to build the tools we need for even better data-sharing and transparency in the future,” he said.

“Treasury is proud to work with our federal agency partners to achieve President Biden’s goal of closing the nation’s digital divide,” said U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet L. Yellen.  “Access to affordable, high-speed internet is critical to the continued strength of our economy and a necessity for every American household, school, and business.”

As part of the signed agreement, each federal agency partner will share information about projects that have received or will receive funding from the previously mentioned federal funding sources.  More information on what the interagency Memorandum of Understanding entails can be found on the FCC’s website.  The agreement is effective at the date of its signing, May 11, 2022.

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Expert Opinion

Christopher Mitchell: Former Sen. Heitkamp’s Attacks on Gigi Sohn for FCC are Wildly Off-Base

Former North Dakota senator sounds practical, but she is misreading quotes or taking them out of context.

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The author of this Expert Opinion is Chris Mitchell, director of the Community Broadband Networks Initiative at Institute for Local Self-Reliance

Gigi Sohn is still up for confirmation by the Senate to complete the Federal Communications Commission – an independent agency in the executive branch of the federal government that has been stuck at a 2-2 split of Democrats and Republicans since President Biden took office. The FCC is supposed to operate with five commissioners, with the party of the President in power having 3 seats.

She was the obvious choice in December of 2020, when it was clear that Joe Biden would take office. With decades of history in telecom and media-related policy as well as a recent stint as Counselor to Tom Wheeler when he was Chair of the FCC, she would be among the most-qualified people to serve on it since I began working in telecom in 2007. And by among, I mean at the top.

I’ve known Gigi for many years and respected her from the first time I saw her in action. She isn’t a political agent trying to figure out the best path to the top. She has strong beliefs, and she’ll tell you what they are in a wonderful Long Island blur of passion. She respects other beliefs and ideas but she isn’t going to pretend she agrees with you when she doesn’t.

Maybe my word isn’t that persuasive, because I tend to agree with Sohn on many issues. But a lot of people with far more credibility among conservatives have spoken up on Gigi. So I hadn’t written anything about this because I assumed it would take time but Gigi would get confirmed. Plus, I focus my work outside DC and there is a lot going on that is keeping us busy.

Gigi was always under fire by the likes of the Wall Street Journal Opinion page, which has made baseless claims about her not being committed to free speech, using tortured logic around denying mergers. If I went off every time that bunch embarrassed the good work of their reporters, I wouldn’t do anything else.

But then some allies forwarded me claims coming from former North Dakota Senator Heidi Heitkamp – someone I have listened to being interviewed on podcasts and generally thought well of because she sounds practical. But the attacks from Heitkamp on Gigi are so off-base that I had to respond because I’m often working with people in rural communities for whom this issue is not theoretical. They have suffered for more than a decade of federal and state mismanagement of broadband expansion programs. Their towns are struggling as hospitals close and jobs move away to areas with better access. Their children have fewer educational opportunities. They face greater risk from communications failures in natural disasters. Getting this right is important.

Multiple off-base complaints about Gigi Sohn and rural America

Heitkamp makes multiple claims that Gigi’s confirmation would be bad for rural America based on misreading quotes or taking them out of context to pretend that Gigi is not concerned with rural broadband challenges. Like this:

  • During an April 2021 interview with Bloomberg Government, saying ‘What [have we gotten] for [the federal government’s existing] $50 billion investment? Not much.’

Is this a sign that Gigi thinks we shouldn’t spend money in rural America?  That is what Heitkamp wants you to believe. But the very next passage in that article says this:

  • ‘What do we get for a $50 billion investment? Not much,’ she said in an interview. ‘What we don’t want is to be in the position we are today: where we built networks that were for then, and not for now, and not for the future.’

The article is about whether money spent on rural broadband subsidies should be built using yesterday’s or tomorrow’s technology. Gigi has been on the right side of this question – we should be making sure that investments in rural America will permanently solve the problem.

Heitkamp was Senator from 2013-2019, a time when the federal government gave multiple billions of dollars to the biggest telecom monopolies – like AT&T. They didn’t even meet the pathetic requirements of that program. Like, at all.

Don’t just take my word for it. Minnesota’s Blandin Foundation has long been a national model for seeking broadband solutions that really work. That work is run by Bernadine Joselyn, someone I have worked with off and on and who has put real thought into rural policy. Regarding the billions of dollars under Connect America Fund, she was quoted here:

  • Those speeds were ‘such a waste of public dollars,’ said Bernadine Joselyn, public policy director for the Blandin Foundation, a Grand Rapids, Minnesota, nonprofit focused on rural issues. ‘If you’re going to make an investment in broadband, you want it to be future proof, especially with public funds. I think it’s reasonable to expect it would benefit a community for decades.’

Heitkamp’s time would be far better used exposing the policies in DC that sent billions to AT&T and bankrupt companies like Frontier that failed to connect rural America.  Instead, she is running a national campaign to tank Gigi’s nomination because Gigi dared to suggest that subsidies to rural America should actually benefit rural residents and businesses. Because Gigi also believes that we should balance rural investment with subsidies to cities, where millions more Americans are ignored or poorly served by cable monopolies and where little girls do their homework at Taco Bell in the city of Salinas just like their peers in rural McDonald’s parking lots.

North Dakota once broke free of big monopolies

Here is the savage irony of Heitkamp running down Gigi with this attack. Heitkcamp is positioning herself as the savior of rural America while selling it out to the monopolies that have refused to invest in it. And she does it while knowing that her former constituents in North Dakota won’t be as harmed as the rest of the country because North Dakota is already wired. 77 percent of the rural areas in the state can connect to the Internet via future-proof, fiber networks, compared to just 20 percent of rural Americans as a whole. North Dakota broke free of the big monopolies that refused to invest outside of the cities, when local cooperatives and independent telcos bought the lines from those monopolies decades ago to better serve their subscribers.

Tanking Gigi’s nomination on these grounds sends a message that rural subsidies should continue going to those companies that simply extract wealth from rural areas. Gigi stands to make sure we invest in networks that are accountable to rural communities rather than handing billions to companies that are better at astroturf marketing campaigns than connecting farms with fiber. I understand why the telecom monopolies are frequently happy to bankroll misinformation campaigns to further their interests. I’m confused why so many people are so easily taken by them.

Gigi is deeply respected by the people who oppose damn near everything she does. I want to see Gigi on the FCC for the same reason her opponents do – because she is not the type to sell out for a buck. She is the model for who we need on the FCC.

Editor’s Note: This piece was authored by Christopher Mitchell, director of the Institute for Local Self Reliance’s Community Broadband Network Initiative. His work focuses on helping communities ensure that the telecommunications networks upon which they depend are accountable to the community. He was honored as one of the 2012 Top 25 in Public Sector Technology by Government Technology, which honors the top “Doers, Drivers, and Dreamers” in the nation each year. This piece was originally published on MuniNetworks.org on April 26, 2022, and is reprinted with permission.

Broadband Breakfast accepts commentary from informed observers of the broadband scene. Please send pieces to commentary@breakfast.media. The views expressed in Expert Opinion pieces do not necessarily reflect the views of Broadband Breakfast and Breakfast Media LLC.

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