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May 7, 2009 8:21 AM

Every State Needs A Broadband Authority Like e-NC

Yesterday I had my first in-depth conversation with Jane Patterson, executive director of the e-NC Authority, America's first state broadband authority.

I'll be diving into the details of all the great things e-NC has done over the course of its existence later, but needless to say it's mindblowingly impressive. From being one of the first states to map broadband, to playing an active role in encouraging the deployment of networks, to helping facilitate the dissemination of information from and coordinating constituents looking to apply to the broadband stimulus, and beyond: the e-NC Authority has had a profound impact on the state of broadband in North Carolina.

And that leads into the idea I most grabbed onto during my conversation with Jane: her suggestion that every state should have a broadband authority.

This makes so much sense it hurts. Too many states don't yet have an entity or individual officially designated as the go-to source for all things broadband. Too often those responsibilities end up falling under the larger umbrella of commerce or some other arm of government.

The reasons for establishing a state broadband authority are manifold.

One, broadband is a multifaceted complex set of issues. You've got mapping and spurring the deployment of more supply, you've got the tracking and encouraging of demand, you've got rights of way and competition issues, and you've got the incredibly huge task of trying to reengineer society to take full advantage of the benefits of living in a networked world.

Two, to tackle these issues you need people dedicated to solving them. This isn't to say that whatever other state agencies tasked with handling broadband aren't dedicated to these issues, but instead that if broadband is only one of multiple things you have to handle then you won't be able to give it the time it needs no matter how dedicated you are.

Three, to best leverage federal support you need an entity coordinating at the state level. For example, one of the best things I've heard state broadband authorities doing with regards to the stimulus is aggregating applications and trying to wrap them all up under a common umbrella, especially as it relates to demand programs. In this way you can avoid multiple worthwhile programs having to compete for the same dollars and instead put together a framework under which they can apply together and more importantly they can coordinate their efforts moving forward.

Four, each state has different terrains, needs, and resources, so the best way to tailor plans to spur deployment and adoption are to have state-level entities that are intimately familiar with the makeup of their states. No federal-level agency can know as much about what's going on on the ground as a state-level entity, and you need something at the state level to help coordinate the efforts of localities.

I could go on but I think you all get the point: if your state doesn't have a broadband authority then it's time to start making phone calls advocating to change that. And for our friends at NTIA and elsewhere in the federal government, I strongly suggest that you take heed of Jane's suggestions and try to find ways to support the establishment of broadband authorities in all 50 states.

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