A group of 24 county officials from across the country have formed a broadband task force with the goal of creating a “blueprint” for closing the digital divide, the group announced Wednesday.
Organized through the National Association of Counties, the task force is co-chaired by J.D. Clark, the county judge of Wise County, Texas, and Craig Rice, a member of the Montgomery County Council in Maryland. They’ll lead the group of county officials in studying methods that both rural and urban communities have used to expand broadband connectivity over the past several years.
The task force follows a NACo report published last March showing that 65% of counties use internet at sub-broadband speeds. But the coronavirus pandemic also motivated the group’s creation, Rice noted in the announcement.
“With the COVID-19 pandemic affecting families and businesses, the need for reliable high-speed internet is more acute than ever,” Rice said.
The pandemic has forced many Americans to work and study from home, straining home internet connections that were often not very strong or reliable in the first place, officials from Virginia, North Carolina, Maine, Delaware and other states told StateScoop this year.
Temporary arrangements between local governments and internet service providers have helped to connect residents to internet rapidly, but the digital divide will persist even as coronavirus restrictions are eventually loosened, Clark said.
“Our new task force will examine the intersection of public and private sector efforts to deploy broadband networks and create a blueprint for local governments to help bridge the digital divide,” Clark said in a press release.