US Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo was back in town last night for a panel discussion at the annual meeting of the Greater Providence Chamber of Commerce alongside Labor Secretary Marty Walsh, Community College of Rhode Island President Meghan Hughes, and moderator Laurie White.
Right out of the gate, the former governor touted an announcement earlier in the day that Rhode Island would receive $5.5 million in planning grants from her office for expanding broadband access, and that the state is eligible to receive at least $100 million to implement its plans.
That’s all part of the Biden administration’s $45 billion national “Internet for all” initiative to provide affordable broadband across every state. Walsh called it one of the most important parts of the bipartisan infrastructure law that the president signed last year.
And Raimondo isn’t the only Rhode Islander helping to lead the way on broadband.
Raimondo said that Kevin Gallagher, an attorney who was a top aide to her throughout her tenure as governor, and Barbara Cottam, who was chairwoman of the state Board of Education until earlier this year, are among the advisors she has brought to Washington, D.C., specifically for the broadband program.
Gallagher and Cottam were both at the Chamber’s meeting at the Convention Center last night.
Gallagher is essentially Raimondo’s broadband czar. He reports directly to Raimondo, and is overseeing the entire program, which has won praise from both Democrats and Republicans. Just last week, the department awarded $224 million to tribal entities in 11 states.
Cottam, who previously worked for Citizens Bank, is a senior advisor for external affairs strategy for the broadband initiative. With every state guaranteed to receive at least $100 million, she’s helping guide the communications strategy on the federal side.
It’s too soon to say how Rhode Island will spend its share of the broadband money (that’s what the planning grants are for), but Raimondo said that because we already live in a well-connected state, the focus here could be on affordability.
My unsolicited idea: Make sure that all public and senior housing in Rhode Island has free (or close to free) wireless Internet.
This story first appeared in Rhode Map, our free newsletter about Rhode Island that also contains information about local events, data about the coronavirus in the state, and more. If you’d like to receive it via e-mail Monday through Friday, you can sign up here.