Infrastructure for the 21st Century: The Importance of Broadband to Cities

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Broadband access and adoption help promote economic development and social equity while promoting public health, public safety and educational opportunities for Americans around the country.

This is a guest post by Vice Mayor David Luna.

In a city as big as Mesa, Arizona, with half a million residents and growing, it’s important to stay ahead of the technological curve. The city understands that, in order to meet the needs of our current and future residents and attract new businesses that will grow our economy in the future, we have to build infrastructure for the future — and that means broadband.

Broadband Internet access underpins all the important advances Mesa is making in building a thriving future. Recently, the city of Mesa installed a dark fiber and conduit system in its roadways — fiber-optic cables that could be leased or put to use by private companies to sell service to businesses and residents. With more than 400 miles of conduit in the city, this buildout also enables Mesa to implement smart city technology and take advantage of the internet of things.

Greater connectivity enables our city and region to collect and share data, streamline government processes, and offer our residents more services. Mesa already offers free public Wi-Fi to residents in many city-owned public spaces, and we are working to expand that to even more locations so that all our residents and visitors can take advantage of the Internet in our public spaces.

Enhancing our telecommunications and technology infrastructure also positions our city to be more prepared for a future that features autonomous vehicles, drone delivery and ubiquitous wireless service. Our region is among the first in the country to hold widescale testing of autonomous vehicles on public roads, and that can only be done safely with a strong fiber network.

Our city’s leadership needs to be complemented by a strong federal partner that is equally committed to getting our residents online and building smarter cities. That’s why I’m in Washington, D.C., this week to advocate on behalf of Mesa and all cities for more federal investment in broadband for communities of all sizes.

The National League of Cities (NLC) believes that reliable, affordable broadband should be available to all Americans, whether they are children who need to complete schoolwork or entrepreneurs running a business. We can make that a reality by eliminating hurdles to local innovation and by increasing investment in federal programs that expand broadband infrastructure and close the digital divide in underserved communities, all while respecting local decision-making processes.

We’re calling on Congress to eliminate state barriers, such as preemptive laws and cumbersome procedural hurdles, to municipal broadband networks. We’re also calling for Congress to increase the financial viability of middle- and last-mile broadband infrastructure investment by incentivizing the inclusion of conduit or fiber in federally-funded infrastructure projects. The city of Mesa has a dig-once policy — but the federal government does not. Cities using federal transportation dollars to rejuvenate roads can’t use that funding to include conduit in their projects.

We’re also asking Congress to invest more in existing programs that help bring broadband to more people, like the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Utility Service Broadband Loan program, which could be expanded to serve more rural communities, the Community Development Block Grant and Choice Neighborhood Grant programs, which help communities plan for broadband, and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) ConnectHome program, which helps get HUD-assisted households with children online.

Lastly, we’re working with Congress and the administration to preserve local land-use authority as cities grapple with technological changes. Long-term decisions about smart cities, broadband networks and the location and nature of infrastructure have to be made by the governments closest to the people — not through one-size-fits-all federal preemption.

Broadband infrastructure is no longer a “nice-to-have” amenity for American cities — it is a necessity. Broadband access and adoption help promote economic development and social equity while promoting public health, public safety and educational opportunities for Americans around the country.

This blog is part of a series celebrating Infrastructure Week 2017. For more information about NLC’s role in this year’s coalition, visit nlc.org/InfrastructureWeek.

Featured image from Getty Images.

About the author: David Luna is the vice mayor of Mesa, Arizona, and serves on the National League of Cities’ Information, Technology and Communications federal advocacy committee.