National Association of Counties (NACo) President Gary Moore announced Montgomery County Council Member Craig Rice will co-chair the newly formed broadband task force to study the lack of reliable broadband with a particular focus on the challenges facing underserved communities.
The task force, comprised of nearly three dozen county government officials from across the country, will examine public and private sector efforts to deploy broadband and create a basis for local governments to help bridge the digital divide in America.
From NACo’s press release:
A report, titled Understanding the True State of Connectivity in America, released by NACo and partner organizations earlier this year, found that nearly two-thirds (65 percent) of U.S. counties experience the internet at speeds below minimum standards set by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), with that number even higher in rural America, where 77 percent of counties operate below the FCC standard.
“With the COVID-19 pandemic affecting families and businesses, the need for reliable high-speed internet is more acute than ever,” said Task Force Co-Chair Craig Rice, a Montgomery County, Md. council member. He noted that many people are attending school and working from home. Individuals and families are relying on the internet for remote health care and conducting transactions through e-commerce.
In Maryland specifically, MACo will be working on building out broadband as one of four initiatives for the upcoming 2021 legislative session.
BUILD OUT BROADBAND: BROADBAND ACCESSIBILITY ACT OF 2021
Weaknesses in current broadband internet service occur in every jurisdiction in Maryland, due to both geography and demography – too many Marylanders have been left on the wrong side of the “digital divide.”
The COVID-19 pandemic has underscored the importance of broadband connectivity across the state. Students have transitioned to online learning, many professionals have shifted to telework, and applying for unemployment or small business assistance programs often requires access to the internet. Affordable high-speed internet is an essential component of a county’s economic development, while lack of reliable broadband is a major barrier to socioeconomic opportunity, health, education, and quality of life.
MACo advocates for prioritizing funding to build out broadband access in Maryland, enhancing incentives and orchestrating opportunities for broadband deployment, and leveraging existing resources and infrastructure for broader use.
Stay tuned to Conduit Street for more information.