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Past Summit

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Tue., June 8, 2021

2021 Broadband Summit: Strategies for Accelerating Broadband Deployment

The COVID-19 pandemic exposed the long-standing digital divide and underscored the need for rapid broadband infrastructure expansion. How can states and localities best use the resources available for broadband infrastructure and create an environment conducive to broadband expansion? More than 100 guests from across the nation participated in the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond's inaugural Broadband Summit on June 8 to address this question.

Key Lessons

  • A significant increase in federal support for broadband infrastructure puts renewed focus on the capacity of states and communities to create new broadband projects.
  • States can support accelerated broadband deployment by providing fiscal support for broadband planning efforts, making staff with technical expertise available to communities as they prepare broadband projects, and reducing regulatory barriers for broadband infrastructure public-private partnerships.
  • Involving internet service providers (ISPs) and community leadership at all stages of broadband infrastructure planning leads to better project proposals.
  • Accurate maps of existing broadband coverage and vertical assets for fixed wireless deployment, where appropriate, should be readily available to communities as they plan broadband infrastructure projects.
  • Communities need help navigating the complex funding landscape of broadband subsidies and financial assistance with matching fund requirements that most federal broadband support requires.

Video is temporarily unavailable.


logo for the Pew Charitable Trust
Richmond Fed

Who Should Participate

­ Anyone who is interested ­ in broadband expansion solutions


  • Tuesday, June 8, 2021
    09:00 am

    Tom Barkin
    President and CEO
    Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond

    Summary: In his opening remarks, Barkin emphasized that this is a critical time to focus on broadband expansion, given the unprecedented support for broadband infrastructure in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

    "Though the last year has made it prominent, the critical need for broadband predates 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 help states and communities meet their broadband needs, access to resources is no longer a problem. Instead, Barkin said that it's essential to understand how best to distribute and leverage those resources.

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

    09:10 am

    Panel 1 - State Broadband Programs: Best Practices and Lessons Learned

    Moderator: Anna Read, Officer, Broadband Research Initiative at the Pew Charitable Trusts


    • Evan Feinman, Chief Broadband Advisor, Office of Governor Ralph Northam
    • Peggy Schaffer, Executive Director, ConnectMaine Authority
    • Emily You, Broadband Grants Manager, Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development

    Summary: Peggy Schaffer highlighted the importance of community capacity and planning for broadband infrastructure projects, noting that such projects only advance with collective action. "It does take a village to make this work," she said. In Maine, community planning grants are an important way to build partnerships with ISPs and nonprofits such as economic development organizations and community foundations. Developing broadband infrastructure plans at the community level attracts ISPs' attention by signaling that the community is interested in coverage and that the ISP can expect enough broadband subscriptions to help pay for infrastructure projects. Schaffer also noted that beyond providing funding for broadband planning projects, states can provide training and information sessions for the community. In Maine, the ConnectMaine Authority ran "broadband boot camps" to discuss broadband options and tools that help rural communities take the first steps.

    Speaking of new federal funding through the American Rescue Plan, Schaffer described the funding as "transformative if we use it right," arguing that flexibility in funding to states will be critical to success.

    Evan Feinman agreed with Schaffer that providing states with maximum flexibility for federal funding is critical. In particular, he emphasized broadband block grants to states as an effective way to accomplish broadband infrastructure expansion.

    In Virginia, Feinman noted that broadband expansion has advanced along three main tracks: policy changes, using state grants as a tool to spur broadband projects to completion, and providing expert staff support to local and regional planning efforts. Virginia's attention to public-private partnerships has given local government a seat at the table while leveraging private expertise and capital. State funds focus on competitive grants to deepen relationships between communities and providers by promoting competition among geographies seeking state support rather than competition among ISPs for a single geography. Virginia's state broadband experts provide support and expertise to communities to ensure that broadband project proposals are high-quality and realistic.

    Emily You noted that Tennessee's success in broadband deployment was built on a foundation of knowing where there was the greatest need. Acknowledging the limitations of the Federal Communications Commission's broadband coverage map, Tennessee created its own granular map of broadband coverage. You also discussed other keys to success: accountability and seeking private provider's input at every stage of the process, such as by allowing both community members and private ISPs the opportunity to comment and make recommendations on all grant proposals. Seeking the input of ISPs on every grant application has enabled the state to demonstrate that the ISPs acknowledge community concerns, leading to more effective broadband infrastructure proposals.

    10:00 am

    Panel 2 - Lessons From Successful Broadband Public Private Partnerships

    Moderator: Alexander Marré, Regional Economist, Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond


    • Jimmy Carr, Chief Executive Officer, All Points Broadband
    • Natalie Roper, Executive Director, Generation West Virginia
    • Jim Stritzinger, Jr., Broadband Coordinator at the South Carolina Office of Regulatory Staff

    Summary: Jimmy Carr identified Virginia's middle-mile policy as key to their successful broadband public-private partnerships. "In Virginia, we have a very unique regulatory framework that is really supercharging broadband," he said. The middle-mile statute is a program that gives investor-owned utilities the ability to invest in middle-mile fiber and then lease excess capacity for last-mile service to private ISPs. All Points Broadband has partnerships with the state's two investor-owned electric utilities and five electrical cooperatives to provide fiber broadband service in 10 difficult-to-serve counties. Carr noted that sharing the financial burden with partners helps to lower the costs and that federal, state, and local government contributions help to make the business case for last-mile service.

    Natalie Roper's organization has found success in West Virginia by helping rural communities and regions identify partners and navigate a complex funding landscape. Generation West Virginia is approaching the broadband infrastructure problem from a technical capacity and funding perspective. The organization helps communities and regions identify expertise and willing ISPs to help plan broadband projects and submit them for federal assistance. Roper noted that financial support is also required at the pre-proposal stage, both for planning and for the matching funds that most federal broadband grant programs require. The philanthropy can fill this role to accelerate broadband deployment.

    In South Carolina, preparation was key to quickly deploying fixed wireless broadband service in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. Prior to the pandemic, Jim Stritzinger had created a training program to develop community broadband champions, community leaders who are ready to submit project proposals when federal funds become available. Another critical piece was mapping to identify the areas that most needed assistance: South Carolina built a predictive model of broadband service by incorporating multiple data sets, making it possible for every community leader to access census block level detail where broadband infrastructure is needed. Stritzinger also had a map of the state's vertical assets, such as water towers and tall buildings, at the ready to identify potential sites for fixed wireless infrastructure as soon as federal funding from the CARES Act became available. Stritzinger emphasized the urgency of solving the broadband problem: "I think about the six-year-olds who don't have internet at home … If we take 10 years to get this done, those six-year-olds will be 16-year-olds, and they will not be able to participate in the digital economy."

    10:50 am


    11:00 am

    Broadband Breakout Discussion Sessions By State

    • Maryland — Kenrick M. Gordon, Director, Maryland Office of Statewide Broadband
    • North Carolina — Patrick Woodie, President, North Carolina Rural Center
    • South Carolina — Jim Stritzinger, Broadband Coordinator, South Carolina Office of Regulatory Staff
    • Virginia — Kyle Rosner, Deputy Broadband Advisor, Commonwealth of Virginia
    • West Virginia — Mitch Carmichael, Secretary, West Virginia Department of Economic Development
    11:50 am

    Wrap Up

    Alexander Marré
    Regional Economist
    Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond

Speakers for Panel 1

Evan Feinman
Office of Governor Ralph S. Northam
Peggy Shafer
ConnectMaine Authority
Emily You
Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development

Speakers for Panel 2

Jimmy Carr
Jimmy Carr
All Points Broadband
Natalie Roper, Executive Director at Generation West Virginia
Generation West Virginia
James Stritzinger, Jr., Broadband Coordinator at South Carolina Office of Regulatory Staff
South Carolina Office of Regulatory Staff

Speakers for Breakout Sessions

Kenrick Gordon, P.E.
Maryland Office of Statewide Broadband
Patrick Woodie
North Carolina Rural Center
James Stritzinger, Jr., Broadband Coordinator at South Carolina Office of Regulatory Staff
South Carolina Office of Regulatory Staff
Kyle Rosner
Commonwealth of Virginia
headshot of Mitch Carmichael
West Virginia Department of Economic Development

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