Page ContentPublic, Private Partners Must be Part of Solution to Close Broadband Gap March 21 , 2018(RALEIGH) -- Closing gaps in North Carolinians' access to reliable broadband will require state policy changes that better enable and encourage local governments, non-profits and private-sector providers to enter into innovative partnerships uniquely designed to address those gaps, according to a new report published by the N.C. League of Municipalities. The report, Leaping the Digital Divide: Encouraging Policies and Partnerships to Improve Broadband Access Across North Carolina, is co-authored by Joanne Hovis, president of CTC Technology and Energy and a recognized expert on communications policy at the federal, state and local levels, and NCLM Legislative Counsel Erin Wynia, who has worked extensively on development-related issues at the League. “Broadband is crucial 21st century infrastructure, no different than water and sewer, electricity and roads. It is critical that everyone have access to it, and that businesses in towns and cities of all sizes have access to the internet speeds that they require to conduct commerce across the country and around the globe," said NCLM President Michael Lazzara, speaking at a news conference on Wednesday unveiling the report's recommendations. The report calls for policy to clarify and enhance local governments' authority to raise and spend money for broadband infrastructure and lease that infrastructure to private and non-profit entities that can then operate retail networks. It also recommends that the state create a competitive grant fund, similar to those adopted in other states, within the N.C. Broadband Infrastructure Office that would appropriate dollars to public and private entities for broadband projects.Other recommendations include: _ Mandating installation of underground conduit to house fiber optic cables each time state entities, such as the Department of Transportation and the N.C. Railroad, undertake projects that require digging along public rights-of-way, allowing that conduit to be used in the future by internet service providers._ Instituting “dig once" policies that require utility providers, when undertaking a project in a right-of-way, to coordinate with local governments so that conduit and fiber can be installed as other infrastructure is built or updated._ Creating digital literacy programs and providing incentives to low-income customers to improve adoption rates and help drive more investment by internet service providers of all types. In addition to its recommendations, the extensive report details underlying problems that have led to gaps in broadband access, explains how the problem is understated by widely published data, examines public-private partnership models, and looks at how local policies can also encourage better broadband availability. “This report makes clear that a flexible approach is required to ensure the kind of broadband access that will meet North Carolina's needs and allow all communities to thrive economically. Different communities have different needs and different challenges. State policy must encourage flexible approaches to prevent areas of our state from being left behind," Wynia said. She emphasized that the needs of business, telehealth and education will only create greater demand for faster and better internet service in the future, meaning policy approaches need to encourage investment in fiber and other technology that provides for optimal service.Find the full report at www.nclm.org/broadband.About the LeagueThe North Carolina League of Municipalities is a membership association of 540 great hometowns – representing nearly every municipality in the state. The League advocates for its members, from the largest city to the smallest village, on the full range of legislative issues that affect municipalities.For more than 100 years, the League has promoted – and continues to promote – good government by offering non-partisan advocacy, insurance and other services – as directed by its membership.