New Cyber Bureau, Broadband Key to Mental Health Progress, NY’s Adirondacks Behind on Broadband

Secretary of State announces new cyber bureau, New York’s Adirondack falling behind on broadband, Oklahoma’s broadband-mental health connection.

New Cyber Bureau, Broadband Key to Mental Health Progress, NY’s Adirondacks Behind on Broadband
Secretary of State Antony Blinken

October 28, 2021 – Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced Wednesday that the department intends to create a new cyber bureau.

“We want to prevent cyber attacks that put our people, our networks, companies, and critical infrastructure at risk,” he said Wednesday.

“After an intense review led by Deputy Secretary [Wendy] Sherman and [Brian] McKeon that included consultations with partners in Congress and outside experts, I intend, with the support of Congress, to establish a new bureau for cyberspace and digital policy headed by an ambassador-at-large, and to name a new special envoy for critical and emerging technology,” Blinken said in prepared remarks.

“Both will report to Deputy Secretary Sherman for at least the first year.”

The new bureau will come at a critical time for the country, as over the past year it has come under a barrage of cyber attacks, including on software company SolarWinds and oil transport company Colonial Pipeline.

Simultaneously, the Joe Biden administration and the Federal Communications Commission has been working to weed out national security threats to the country, either via executive order or through revocations of licenses to operate.

Experts have pointed to cyber attacks as a preferred option for adversarial nations, like China and Russia, that don’t intend to try to match the military capabilities of the U.S.

Broadband key to mental health progress in Oklahoma

Oklahoma mental health officials say that limited broadband access is harmful to mental health in the state, reads a Thursday op-ed.

The widening digital divide in Oklahoma has turned into a “major crisis” after COVID-19 moved most of American life online, writes Joy Sloan, CEO of Green County Behavioral Health Services and founding board member of the Alliance of Mental Health Providers of Oklahoma.

Sloan says that broadband access is a social determinant of health. Social determinants of health are the physical, social, and economic conditions where people live. “In today’s world, internet access is tied to a great number of social determinates of health. It is largely through the internet that people access government services, communicate with others and have contact with the wider world.”

Oklahoma is one of the least connected states in the country, ranking 48 nationwide for homes connected to the internet. Oklahoma is highly rural, with rural residents living in high rates of poverty. According to a White House fact sheet, nearly 25 percent of Oklahoma residents live where there is no broadband infrastructure that meets the minimum acceptable speed.

Broadband increases access to jobs and economic opportunities, which directly impacts mental health, Sloan says. “Unemployment is associated with high rates of depression. Broadband also boots access to education and training,” she says. Increased investment in broadband will improve mental health outcomes for Oklahoma residents by allowing remote residents to earn online degrees, foster social support, and offering people access to mental health care through telehealth.

Sloan encourages those working to bring universal broadband to the state to “consider another far-reaching benefit of this work: the mental health of our citizens.”

NY’s Adirondack region behind in broadband access

Broadband advocates in New York state’s Adirondack region say millions of broadband deployment dollars have been wasted with no significant improvements for residents, according to a Friday report from the Adirondack Explorer.

The problem, internet providers and North Country broadband advocates say, is that the financial program intended for residents goes instead to taxes and fees that do little to promote broadband deployment, the Adirondack Explorer reported on Sunday.

“In my opinion we have wasted over $100 million of the $500 million that the governor placed into the program” says Jim Monty, Lewis Town Supervisor and a member of the North Country broadband coalition.

Since New York established the $500 million Broadband Program Office, installing fiber optic cables cost $4,000  per mile, Monty said. Today the same distance costs $16,000. Further, the state tax code “almost seems to have been written expressly to discourage rural broadband….even as the Cuomo administration was making bold pronouncements about universal broadband availability, its own taxes, fees, and laws were all but ensuring that the initiative would fall short” broadband providers say.

The regional planning board representing six counties in the North Country is trying to land a $20 million grant from the National Telecommunications and Information Administration to connect 3,000 more homes. Costing $7,000 per home to bring broadband in the North Country, the price “is reflective of the rural nature of these households” and the added fee requirement that the New York Department of Transportation began levying two years ago on fiber laid on state property.

Beth Gilles, director of the Lake Champlain-Lake George Regional Planning board, says homes are being connected one by one after organizations like the regional planning boards have “stepped up to help organize all the various companies and grant applications” that the process involves.

“It’s a big lift. But it’s worth it,” she said.