Connecting state and local government leaders
Andy Berke, NTIA’s special representative for broadband, said the infrastructure buildout is just the first step to ensuring that everyone can take advantage of the internet.
A Biden administration official urged state and local governments to continue pushing efforts around digital equity, including increasing digital skills and access to devices, as billions of dollars become available from the federal government to expand broadband internet.
Andy Berke, special representative for broadband at the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), said during an event hosted by The Washington Post that the billions of dollars to be spent on building out infrastructure should be just the start of states’ efforts to get people connected.
“This is not the last thing that we need to do,” Berke said. “We’re certainly going to connect every person, that’s part of the work, but that doesn’t mean everybody is going to have access because we still have issues of skills and affordability and devices.”
States are set to receive $65 billion from the federal government to build out broadband through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, with Louisiana the first state to receive planning grants under two programs within that law. Part of those funds will be put toward digital equity efforts in the state.
Meanwhile, other states and cities including Philadelphia have already launched their own digital equity plans, in a bid to show how they will tackle issues like digital literacy and a lack of devices, especially in low-income and majority-minority communities where the digital divide is often at its most acute.
Berke said that while states are still in the planning stage, it will be imperative to ensure federal funds are used “efficiently and effectively,” even as the administration is concerned about the effects of inflation and the need to hire around 100,000 new workers to help build out the infrastructure.
Broadband-related jobs will include digging up roads and climbing towers to install infrastructure, in addition to other roles like splicing fiber. Berke said the NTIA is in constant contact with the states and urged them to build up this sector of their workforce, by partnering with community colleges and vocational schools to ensure new workers are ready.
Berke acknowledged it will be a long process to ensure workers are up to speed, but said he was optimistic it can be done. “We’re working on it,” he said.