Connecting People Without Internet Access In Silicon Valley

Chief Innovation Officer Shireen Santosham, Deputy City Manager Kip Harkness and Civic Innovation Director Dolan Beckel are working to provide more digital access in San Jose.

Chief Innovation Officer Shireen Santosham, Deputy City Manager Kip Harkness and Civic Innovation Director Dolan Beckel are working to provide more digital access in San Jose. Shutterstock

 

Connecting state and local government leaders

2018 NAVIGATOR AWARD WINNER: Shireen Santosham and Team, Mayor’s Office of Technology and Innovation & City Manager’s Office of Civic Innovation & Digital Strategy, City of San José, California

This is the third in a series of 10 profiles on the individuals and teams who were named 2018 Route Fifty Navigator Award winners

Located in the heart of Silicon Valley, it would make sense that San José is a digitally connected city. But like so many places, that connectivity doesn’t apply to everyone.

So, two city offices —the mayor’s Office of Technology and Innovation and the city manager’s Office of Civic Innovation and Digital Strategy—have worked in tandem to try to close the area’s digital divide.

Chief Innovation Officer Shireen Santosham pushes the city to be future-proof, which began with the Smart City Vision that created the innovation program in 2016.

Meanwhile, Deputy City Manager Kip Harkness and Civic Innovation Director Dolan Beckel negotiate partnerships like those with carriers Verizon and AT&T for fifth generation wireless technology.

Before the offices began working together, “we actually didn’t have a broadband strategy for the city at all,” Santosham told Route Fifty in an interview.

Recognizing San José needed better data quantifying lack of access to broadband, she orchestrated a Digital Inclusion Strategy study conducted with Stanford University and Community Connect Labs.

After gaining a better idea of how the city’s approximately 95,000 unconnected residents access the internet and speeds around town, the city began working with partners like Facebook piloting its Terragraph network and 5G providers.

Beckel spearheaded agreements with Verizon and AT&T obtaining fair market value for use of existing city infrastructure at palatable rates for business while reorganizing internal permitting.

“So far the agreements seem to have held up, and we’re moving forward with the carriers,” Santosham said.

San José is among 21 cities suing the Federal Communications Commission for a recent order limiting what localities can charge carriers for use of public rights of way, as well as shortening timelines for approving deployments. The cities argue the rule improperly usurps local government authority.

Harkness’ team has exceeded the timelines laid out by the FCC, Santosham said, and created a digital inclusion fund providers agreed to pay into to finance expanding broadband access to hundreds of thousands of residents not online today. While not the first such fund, the city says it’s the largest in the country.

Several Internet of Things pilots were also negotiated with Verizon and AT&T to coincide with the rollout of 5G later this year.

“We’ve been really pioneering around sharing data and testing different forms of autonomous transit,” Santosham said.

Dave Nyczepir is a News Editor at Government Executive’s Route Fifty and is based in Washington, D.C.

NEXT STORY: New Reports Suggest Amazon Plans to Split Its HQ2 Between 2 Cities

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