South Bend hosts broadband conference with state and national partners
Between the American Rescue Plan Act and the possible Build Back Better legislation, there’s a lot of federal funding headed to states and cities for investments in broadband.
Representatives from across the state and the country were in South Bend Thursday to talk about how to best use that funding.
The city of South Bend partnered with Next Century Cities and the Pew Charitable Trusts to host a municipal broadband conference at the Innovation and Technology Conference Center on the former Studebaker site.
In his opening remarks, South Bend Mayor James Mueller said the pandemic had driven home the importance of digital connectivity “in a 21st-century economy.”
“Obviously, when we were staying at home and e-learning and all the rest, [we learned] you can’t do much of anything without reliable, high-speed connectivity,” he said.
Mueller and several other presenters touched on the urban-rural divide in digital access, and that the best solutions often come from partnerships between local governments and their state and regional counterparts.
“No one institution can solve the digital divide — in South Bend or anywhere, really,” Chief Innovation Officer Denise Linn Riedl said. “Everyone needs to work together for funding and best practices and program design. Everyone needs to play a role in this systemic challenge.”
Participants also discussed how cities could prepare to improve their broadband infrastructure and improve digital equity and inclusion.
Locally, South Bend has begun an expansion of its Open WiFi network and plans to increase its fiber optic cable capacity in the future.
The city has also offered free WiFi hotspots and at-home internet packages to South Bend Community Schools students since the fall of 2020.
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