As the pandemic drags on, local governments across the country are looking for ways to connect their residents, who need better Internet access for everything from online education to annual taxes to telehealth appointments. But 19 states still place restrictions on cities and counties that want to invest in broadband expansion, hamstringing their ability to address urgent connectivity needs.
To help people figure out if their community is able to take action, we worked with the Local Solutions Support Center (LSSC) to develop a step-by-step guide for local officials and advocates. The guide includes the various considerations communities must make when developing a Covid-19 broadband response, including the extent of local government authority, state legal restrictions, and declaration of emergency powers.
LSSC describes the guide:
As the coronavirus pandemic spreads, local elected officials and advocates alike are asking what they can do for their communities across a range of policies — including to ensure that everyone has broadband Internet access available. This guide can help you determine whether your community has the authority it needs to adopt a particular policy.
“What’s the Policy?”
The guide takes people through the following questions and action steps:
- What’s the Policy?
- Is there Existing Authority?
- Is the Policy Expressly Preempted?
- Is there a Conflict with State Law or Other Barrier?
- What is the Extent of Emergency Powers?
- Demand State Action
For the different steps, the guide offers an explanation, identifies examples from different states, and suggests resources for further research. For example, under “Is there Existing Authority?” the guide directs communities to look at state and local legal frameworks to establish whether they have the authority to develop and finance their project. The steps are applicable to short-term solutions, like public Wi-Fi hot spots, as well as longer-term efforts, like publicly-owned broadband networks.
LSSC points out that this is just a starting point for communities that want to improve local broadband access. “This guide is not intended to be legal advice,” LSSC explains. “Rather it aims to encourage communities, city attorneys, and advocates to examine the possibilities for creative local action.”