Guest Blog Post by Jessica Zufolo, Director of Rural Infrastructure Deployment and Strategy
Jessica Zufolo joined FirstNet in March 2014 on a detail assignment from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) where she is Deputy Administrator of the Rural Utilities Service (RUS). While at RUS, Jessica oversaw and managed a $63 billion federal loan and grant portfolio – part of which finances telecommunications and broadband networks in rural areas. In today’s Blog, Jessica talks about her participation in the 2014 New York State Broadband Summit last week in Albany, NY.
I recently had the opportunity to attend the New York State Broadband Summit hosted by Governor Cuomo and his broadband program leadership within the Empire State Development Corporation – the state’s economic development agency in charge of broadband grant funding and mapping.
This summit is a yearly event that brings the together local government leaders, policy officials, regulators, carriers, and vendors from across the state to share best practices and highlight success stories and ideas for expanding broadband availability deeper into unserved portions of the state. It was an honor for me to be invited to join such a high profile gathering of more than 160 decision makers involved in broadband investment and deployment from across New York State (NYS).
The Summit participants were a mix of local, tribal, and federal leaders involved in broadband network deployment, adoption, financing, permitting, and policy development. Many of the participants were local municipal officials and community leaders from remote areas in the North Country near the Canadian border, the Adirondack region, and portions of Sullivan County that are still without robust broadband access.
Also in attendance were American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA) awardees that have transformed their local economies by building state of the art fiber optic networks to residential and anchor institution customers like first responders, hospitals, and libraries. Two key ARRA projects in NYS were built by the Saint Regis Mohawk Tribe and the Saint Lawrence Internet Company (SLIC) networks owned by Nicholville Telephone – both of which were financed by the USDA’s Rural Utilities Service (RUS).
As a native New Yorker and a USDA RUS official currently serving on a detail assignment to FirstNet, I have a deep appreciation for how important broadband availability is to agriculture in NYS. Agricultural production is a vital engine for much of the state’s economy, and many farming communities throughout New York that sustain yogurt and dairy production were hit hardest during Hurricanes Sandy and Irene.
I talked to many first responders from rural portions of the state about the need for farming communities to have access to a robust public safety broadband network, particularly during severe weather incidents. Rural farming communities and the independent and cooperative providers that serve them will continue to partner with each other to develop creative solutions to provide first responders with the tools and technology they need to fulfill their missions in remote areas.
There is significant interest and a deep level of commitment across rural New York towards supporting the needs of first responders on a state and nationwide basis. Practically every participant at the summit pledged their eagerness to join the discussion at the state and federal level to realize the vision of FirstNet.
During my remarks, I encouraged Summit participants to get involved in the efforts already underway at the state level led by the NYS Division of Homeland Security & Emergency Services. I explained how FirstNet presents a major opportunity to communities and broadband network providers and utilities throughout the state encouraged them to play a role in making sure the new network reaches underserved portions of NYS.
The New York State Broadband Program Office within the Empire State Development Corporation is led by David Salway and his staff and will also be instrumental towards this effort. He and his team have shown vision, commitment, and initiative in working closely with federal agencies like USDA RUS and the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) both in Washington, DC and in NY to ensure rural communities throughout NYS have access to high quality, high capacity broadband service. The networks financed by his office as well as those financed by USDA RUS and NTIA throughout the state will be critical towards making sure the state achieves substantial coverage in rural high costs areas.
Thanks to the New York State Broadband Program Office for inviting FirstNet to participate in the Summit. We look forward to working with them and other state and local officials to ensure the successful deployment of a public safety broadband network in NYS.