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Remarks by Chief of Staff Reynolds at Building a Community Broadband Roadmap Workshop

September 04, 2014

Remarks by Glenn Reynolds
Chief of Staff
National Telecommunications and Information Administration
Building a Community Broadband Roadmap: Lessons in Implementation
Minneapolis, Minn.
September 4, 2014

-- As Prepared for Delivery --

Good morning, everyone.

I am Glenn Reynolds and I am the Chief of Staff of NTIA, which is part of the U.S. Department of Commerce and the principal advisor to the President on technology and telecom policy issues.

On behalf of Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker and NTIA Administrator Larry Strickling, I have the privilege of welcoming you all here today.  We are thrilled to have so many attendees here from Minnesota and surrounding states.  And we are particularly appreciative of those who have traveled even farther to be with us.  The commonality of interest among everyone that has taken the time to be here is recognition of the critical importance of broadband to expanding community opportunities for education, jobs, and overall economic development, and – more importantly -- a commitment to bringing these opportunities to every community.

Today’s symposium is the second in a series of gatherings that NTIA is hosting to explore the topic of community broadband as we wind down our existing broadband grant programs and focus on what comes next.

As most of you are aware, NTIA and the Department of Agriculture’s Rural Utility Service (RUS) have invested more than $7 billion over the past five years to expand access to and use of high-speed Internet services in order to close the digital divide and drive economic growth.

Funded from money from the 2009 American Reinvestment and Recovery Act, NTIA’s Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP) has financed roughly 230 projects across the country that have built critical network infrastructure, opened or upgraded public computer centers and established broadband adoption and digital inclusion programs. And our State Broadband Initiative Program has invested another almost $300 million to help states collect broadband data for the National Broadband Map and expand their statewide broadband capacity.

Here in Minnesota, we awarded $17 million to Eventis Telecom to build a 400-mile middle-mile network that is providing high-capacity, low-cost Ethernet connections across 23 rural counties and delivering speeds of up to 10 gigabits to more than 30 anchor institutions, including schools, libraries and healthcare facilities. We also gave a $5 million grant to the C.K. Blandin Foundation to promote a culture of broadband use in rural Minnesota by supporting community technology planning, offering digital literacy classes and e-commerce training for small business, and supplying refurbished computers and discounted Internet access for low-income residents. I’m pleased that Greg Flanagan from Eventis Telecom and Bernadine Joselyn from the C.K. Blandin Foundation are both here with us today.

Nationwide, our grantees built, upgraded or leased more than 112,000 miles of fiber and fixed wireless connections as of the end of 2013. They hooked up more than 24,000 community anchor institutions, including more than 10,000 K-12 schools, nearly 2,500 libraries and 2,400 medical facilities. And they established or upgraded 3,300 public computer centers and helped nearly 580,000 households sign up for broadband. At the same time, our State Broadband Initiative Program has supported more than 200 local broadband planning teams across the country.

I know I don’t need to explain to this crowd why investing in broadband is so important. At the community level, an advanced telecommunications infrastructure is critical for driving growth, attracting new businesses and remaining competitive in the 21st Century economy. And at the individual level, access to broadband - and the know-how to use it - can open the door to educational resources, employment opportunities, healthcare information, government services and social networks.

We are certainly proud of the progress that has been made over the past 5 years.  But there certainly remain plenty more opportunities and challenges for getting broadband to our communities and, more specifically, to our citizens.  And as the Recovery Act funded portion of this effort winds down, the question we are hoping to focus on today is “What’s next?”  That is the question I will let Doug address in more detail.

But I’d like to conclude by saying that, at NTIA, we see closing the digital divide as a multi-pronged challenge that demands a comprehensive approach. Addressing existing gaps requires not only extensive network availability and robust bandwidth at the community level, but also low-cost equipment, appropriate training, affordable monthly service and useful applications at the individual level. It also requires collaboration among many different stakeholders, including local, state and federal officials, community leaders, industry executives, private foundations and broadband activists. In other words, it requires a holistic approach to broadband – what we at NTIA call “community broadband.” 

Last night at dinner, I had the pleasure of meeting several of you here today and hearing some of your tremendous success stories. But the overarching messages I heard, made particularly eloquently by Bernadine Jocelyn, were the critical importance of these efforts to communities and how essential it is for those who have been part of these efforts – and those just beginning – to come together to share the lessons learned to order to maintain the momentum.

And in that spirit, I and the rest of my NTIA colleagues look forward to spending the day with you and engaging in a dialogue as to how to move forward towards the shared goal of universal broadband.

And with that, I will hand it off to Doug.