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The State of the (Rural) Digital Union

Well, it’s unclear if the State of the Union speech will actually happen, or where, or when. (We can’t pretend we think it’s any great loss.) But what is the state of the Digital Union these days? States all around the country have been waking up to the fact that digital equality affects their citizens lives in a myriad of ways.

In Mississippi, the Rural Broadband Enabling Act passed the Senate and is headed to the Governor for a signature.

Minnesota has a bill in progress now to inject 70 million into it’s own broadband access goals.

New Mexico was just recently ranked as one of the least connected states, just ahead of Arkansas and Mississippi.

In Washington state, Governor Inslee is creating a State Broadband Office, with an initial investment of 25 million, aimed at spreading access in Washington.

Oregon Governor Kate Brown also thought that was a good idea. The Oregon Broadband Office gets 1.1 million in funding, and is intended to act as a policy and planning hub.

But let’s not forget Missouri started their own Office of Broadband last year. This replaced the now defunct MOBroadbandNow initiative.

Maine’s Gov-elect, Janet Mills, has nominated Heather Johnson as her Economic Development Commissioner. Johnson is currently the head of the ConnectME Authority, an agency that works to expand broadband access in the state.

Last month, Virginia announced it wants to expand the state’s investment in broadband, upping the annual budget of the Virginia Telecommunications Initiative from 4 million to 50 million by 2020.

North Carolina officials recently announced their intention to make North Carolina the first “gigabit state,” a goal complimented by their recently rolled-out GREAT grant program, which provides ten million in grants for internet service providers to compete over in their efforts to expand broadband to NC’s forty Tier One counties. Tier One is a designation for NC’s most economically distressed counties.

And in Tennessee, Newport Utilities is knocking on doors to spread awareness of its NUConnect broadband service.

And these are just the most recent stories. Across the board, state officials are recognizing the immediacy of digital inequality, and the strain it puts on social, educational, and medical services. Simply put, investment in these issues is no longer optional.

While all of this momentum forward on the state level is fantastic, the major thing all these announcements have in common is their focus on rural broadband. While connecting rural citizens is obviously important, especially when it comes to education and telehealth, we hope that all of these states will also look within their larger cities for internet deserts. When the American Community Survey data became available late last year, it gave us a window to see where these pockets of disconnected citizens really exist on a neighborhood level. We hope state officials will seek to improve connectivity for all the people they serve, not just the ones in rural areas.

But onwards and upwards!