National and State Infrastructure | Law, Policy –

Senators Promote Partnerships to Boost Affordability

The infrastructure bill wending its way through Congress and onto the President’s desk is a very exciting development for broadband deployment and other critical areas of the internet. Back when I ran for Congress, the Farm Bill of 2018 allotted about $500 million for broadband. A drop in the bucket, and one that few people that most needed it knew about it to apply for it. In my home county of Yates in the Finger Lakes region of New York, we have a 100% Republican County Legislature, and a Republican congressman. It took the defeated Congressional Democrat – me – to go to the County Legislature and tell them to go get the money. I suspect as pitiful of a number as that Farm Bill appropriation represents, for the failure to communicate adequately with the rural areas in need of it, it is still money unspent. 

Let it be known that in the last COVID bill, the one passed under the Biden Administration, there is also money for broadband. And we might remind each other of the obvious: if one did not understand the need for national, robust broadband before the pandemic, one could not ignore its significance since.  Concerned about global competitiveness with China? We need national, robust broadband access. Want to close the gap between rich and poor? Broadband is not a cure-all, but it will help. (Reconciliation Bill, that promised progressive taxation so that the corporations and the wealthy pay their fair share is the main ticket). Want to better integrate rural and urban areas, and its wealth gaps, broadband is a very big and necessary correction piece. Better education and schooling for youth? Greater opportunities for retooling or career-shifting in mid-life? You know the answer.

I want to couple this issue, about which I have already written so extensively over the years and campaigned for it tirelessly, to some interesting developments we have in New York State. You might have heard that Governor Cuomo is resigning in about two weeks. Our Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochel will fill his seat. I am a huge booster of her. She is well educated, experienced, and capable; she is fair; she embodies the upwardly mobile spirit; she gets New York State outside of New York City, Long Island and Albany; and she is unfailing respectful to supporters and critics alike. From my world view it does not get much better than that. Our state could not be better served under these unusual circumstances.

What then is my point of coupling advocacy of broadband and other critical topics related to the internet and the Albany shift? New York State has an opportunity to be a model in how states can properly deploy the federal money coming their way for the internet. 

  • Step One: Appoint someone to champion the allocation of that money throughout the state. Drop the Cuomo-style grants to ISPs and work with counties to be sure that they are using the approach best suited to their region. Integrating that effort with proven private-public partnerships such as the Southern Tier network tp professionally expedite the effort.  And for heaven sakes, create a realistic map of the state! Along with the exclusive grants to ISPs was a map that served them but not the public. Every household is the measure, not one point on every square. That mapping should work hand in hand with the efforts under way that Acting Chair Jessica Rosenworcel is creating under the Federal Communications Commission. 
  • Step Two: Appoint a cybersecurity czar for the state. Cybersecurity is, to be sure, a critical national issue, and there is much that still needs to be done in that space, about which I have already devoted so many blog posts. My point here is each state needs to integrate with the federal government.  Deputy Anne Neuburger, National Security Council, is promoting a good path of getting the federal government and its may agencies under a unified policy framework (although much remains to be done).  New York State – and all states – should do the same.  Mutual reporting must be brought into the framework with the federal and state government. Following up on President Biden’s recent Executive Order regarding voluntary reporting for corporations, state and federal government should be working seamlessly to bring private business in … especially the financial sector for which New York is the crown jewel. Be a good example for many other businesses across the national landscape and a reminder of our shared interests.
  • Step Three: Education, Education, Education. Appoint a cyber education czar.  So much work needs to be done beginning with simple technological instruction once people can obtain connections either through, or both, physical and financial assistance. Build on the technical with the information education about what it means to use this global network, how to maintain basic privacy and security of our own devices and keep a watchful eye on those with which we interconnect, including, and not least, our major internet businesses in search and social networking. There is nothing essentially new about mis or disinformation (first not intended, the second intended to deceive); it is as old as history. But the means, scope, and amplification of these forces on and through network devices is crippling this country’s effort to arrest the pandemic and create a trusted body politic.  Broadband deployment is just the start, but like any technology it is neither good nor bad, only thinking makes it so. Without the education necessary to integrate critical thinking skill, simple technological access could, conceivably, add fuel to divisive fires.  We must address this challenge, and education is our first and most important defense. Our fundamental democratic values rely on it.
  • Step Four: Create a Cyber Council for New York State. This Council should include all the obvious stakeholders and then some categories of people who are not so obvious. Technology firms, ISP and other telecommunication and internet company interests, privacy, and security experts both technical and policy, as well as educators from K-12 as well as our outstanding colleges and universities in New York State.  Bring in some people on the ground: low income, rural, old, young, marginalized populations – not least of which are our many indigenous communities — diverse perspectives, upstate, downstate, Central and Western New York. Mission: Make New York the model of how to have this revolutionary technology serve the goals of public interest.  The other three czars should be sitting members.  Can this state-wide council then propagate similar bodies in their regional areas, using, perhaps the same geographic distinctions that served the state in the pandemic?  In other words, it is not just milage to Albany for a select few.  Get local regions and area communities involved until we have a series of council that represent all of New York State.   Library systems might be a wonderful supporter in this effort. 
  • Step Five:  Communicate, Champion, Communicate. Information technology, cybersecurity, and internet policy have for far too long been positioned on the outskirts of more traditional areas of governance. It is obvious that model has not served the public interest whether you look at anti-trust, privacy, cyber, disinformation, fraud, or any other aspect of the internet. There is a lot of money about to come our way, let’s use it very wisely by including good communication and governance in the strategic plan for it. 

Remember, higher education, twenty years ago when every other EDUCAUSE event was about getting a seat at the table of our institutions?Let’s help our governments and American society at large learn from our efforts. This area MUST sit at the big table, and then be part of every New Yorker’s life, education, work, and welfare.NOW is the time to do it!

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