By Howard Baldwin, Contributing Columnist
The place with the best broadband ecosystem is not Silicon Valley or Route 128, the mainstays of technology companies in the United States. But that’s not surprising, given the popularity of e-commerce and cloud computing – it’s Washington State, home of Microsoft and Amazon.
That’s the determination of the TechNet 2012 State Broadband Index, which ranked all 50 states on various facets of their ICT-related infrastructure.
The ranking (see box for the top ten states) may seem subjective – how could the Puget Sound possibly beat out the Santa Clara Valley? – but the fact remains that the TechNet results weren’t based on how much broadband is installed, but rather (as the name indicates) a combination of factors, including broadband adoption, network speed and quality, and employment statistics related to broadband capabilities.
Indeed, one of the TechNet criteria was a CTIA-sponsored report tracking “a state-by-state estimate of jobs in apps development, to include apps intensity.” More important than the individual factors, however, might be the effect of work that can’t necessarily be quantified: that is, the political will to get broadband deployed.
According to report co-author John Horrigan, currently a vice-president at the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies at the Washington, D.C.-based Media and Technology Institute, the results indicate that “state engagement in broadband is clear. State leaders understand how it can improve economic growth, as well as contribute to less costly service delivery.”
The problem is, of course, that not all policymakers at the state level get it yet. Certainly, Horrigan says, a lot of progress has been made since the FCC released the National Broadband Plan in 2010 (which he also worked on), and in some of the higher-ranking states, work began before the NBP. Both California and Massachusetts, Horrigan noted, have had task forces in place since at least 2006. But others are having trouble.
Planning is Often Problematic
Horrigan suggests, “Getting outside the box is hard. When you’re doing something new, creating something that requires sustainable planning capacity, it takes a lot of effort,” both among governmental organizations and among constituencies. The latter include representatives from both the public sector and the private sector, each with seemingly contradictory goals.
Horrigan believes that, while difficult, having states lead broadband efforts is highly valuable. “The state can often serve a very useful function as a convener of parties, and as a catalyst at the community level. Having the state take the lead early also helps you stay away from rural-urban antagonism,” says Horrigan, given the competing needs of urban and rural users.
“Cooperation and planning can really pay off, but they take trust-building and homework,” says Horrigan. “Once you have the idea that you want to improve, you have to bring together the stakeholders. That’s easy to do on a single shot but hard to sustain because of competing goals among constituencies.”
He lauds Illinois Governor Pat Quinn’s efforts as an example, citing his office’s interest in broadband for both community and economic development. Even though the state budget is tight, Quinn established an innovation fund that’s leveraged a little money into a lot of activity. That effort has in turn inspired Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel to get involved.
Common Ground for Collaboration
Horrigan acknowledges that there have been some challenges in getting the private sector and the public sector to work together. But that makes cooperation more important, not less. “If a state wants to build a nice shiny network to run its own traffic, it has to have someone install it, so the private sector will benefit somehow. The carriers may not operate it, but they’ll get something.”
He adds that it would behoove the private sector to collaborate the public sector, which frequently controls access rights for broadband deployment. “If carriers complain about having to jump through hoops to get access rights, they should start a conversation about how to improve that problem.”
The sooner the various constituencies within the public and private sector stop arguing and start cooperating, the better it’ll be for all of them.
The Top Ten States
6. New Jersey
10. New York
Some states on this list are no surprise, but Delaware, Utah, and Vermont may be. “Vermont and Utah have done a lot of rural development,” says John Horrigan, senior fellow of TechNet and co-author of TechNet 2012 State Broadband Index. “Delaware did well because it’s reasonably densely populated with a lot of corporate headquarters in Wilmington demanding high bandwidth.”