SUBJECT: Establishing the position of Special Assistant for Broadband Policy and Development within the Office of the Governor to head the operation and administration of a Broadband Policy and Development Program.
AUTHORITY: NMI Const. art. III, § 1 provides that “[t]he executive power of the Commonwealth shall be vested in a governor who shall be responsible for the faithful execution of the laws”; and NMI Const. art. III § 14 grants the governor the power to “at any time require information in writing or otherwise from the head of any administrative department, office or agency of the Commonwealth”; and 1 CMC § 2052 provides that the “Governor may employ staff as required to assist the office of the Governor in performing its functions[.]”
WHEREAS, access to the internet is an essential part of everyday life in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands and an integral component in the delivery of education, healthcare, transportation, emergency response, and other critical public services connecting the service providers with students, patients, travelers, and the general public;
WHEREAS, as public and commercial activities in the Commonwealth have become increasingly linked through the internet, access to a reliable, affordable high-speed internet in the Commonwealth is vital to work, learn, and compete in the 21st century economy;
WHEREAS, notwithstanding the necessity of broadband in today’s world, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands lags behind most of the United States in its internet infrastructure and broadband technology;
WHEREAS, the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment (BEAD) Program launched by President Joseph R. Biden under the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law seeks to improve access to reliable, affordable high-speed internet through grant funding to all states and territories including the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands;
WHEREAS, the BEAD Program makes available at least $25 million to the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands to build infrastructure and increase adoption of high-speed internet, with priority placed on unserved and underserved areas;
WHEREAS, funding from the BEAD Program may be used to support many critical eligible uses, including: 1) planning for the deployment of high-speed internet including research, data collection, outreach, and training; (2) deploying or upgrading internet in unserved or underserved areas or improving service to community anchor organizations; (3) installing internet and Wi-Fi in multi-unit residential buildings; (4) adoption and digital equity programs; and (5) workforce development programs and vocational training;
WHEREAS, in addition to the BEAD Program, millions more in federal dollars are available to the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands for broadband infrastructure and development through other funding streams, including but not limited to at least $14 million from the U.S. Department of Treasury’s Capital Projects Fund, $3.4 million from the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Digital Equity Program, and up to $5 million from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Community ReConnect Program;
WHEREAS, it is imperative that the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands pursue all opportunities to invest in, improve, and expand its internet infrastructure for the benefit of all residents, especially those in unserved and undeserved areas;
WHEREAS, through the establishment of a Broadband Policy and Development Program, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands will be better equipped to improve the quality of life of its residents through equitable access to reliable, affordable high-speed internet, and the social, educational, healthcare, and economic benefits provided thereby;
NOW THEREFORE, I, ARNOLD I. PALACIOS, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and laws of the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, and in order to achieve effective and efficient government administration so as to serve the interests of the Commonwealth and its people, hereby direct the following:
Establishment of the Broadband Policy and Development Program
- Within the Office of the Governor, there is established a Broadband Policy and Development (BPD) Program which shall be headed by a Special Assistant for Broadband Policy and Development who shall be appointed by and shall serve at the pleasure of the Governor. The Special Assistant shall:
- Assist the Governor and the Commonwealth government to perform and carry out functions and duties necessary to develop and implement a broadband strategy for the Commonwealth that promotes advanced broadband network services, expands the digital economy, increases consumer options, promotes digital literacy, increases broadband equity, and supports access and affordability for residents across the islands of the Commonwealth;
- Manage and lead the Commonwealth’s efforts to apply for federal grants and coordinate the use of broadband funding available to the Commonwealth, and shall receive the assistance and cooperation of the Office of Grants Management staff and administrator to ensure compliance with all requirements of federal broadband programs, including but not limited to the timely submission of plans, reports, and data;
- Develop strategies, plans and projects with sufficient research, data collection, outreach and training to transform the Commonwealth’s internet infrastructure and improve internet reliability, affordability, accessibility, and speed, and shall receive the assistance and cooperation of the Department of Finance including the Office of Information Technology, the Office of Planning and Development, the Department of Commerce, and other relevant executive departments and agencies and their principal executives including the heads of public corporations and autonomous agencies, in a concerted effort to consolidate and coordinate all resources of the Commonwealth relating to the upgrade of broadband infrastructure and services in the Northern Mariana Islands;
- Engage with stakeholders in the Commonwealth both in the public and private sectors in the development of strategic plans for improved broadband services, including consulting with the members of the legislature, mayors of the municipal governments and members of the municipal councils, utilities, healthcare providers, educators, businesses, agricultural sector, fisheries sector, tourism sector, public safety entities, nonprofit organizations, consumers, community leaders, and broadband service providers;
- Develop and employ or contract personnel resources with knowledge of broadband, telecommunications and information technology policy subject to availability of authorized funding;
- Develop and maintain a broadband map as a platform for data collection to track the availability of broadband services, government investments, and progress, as well as other related information, and ensure public access to the data;
- Report to the Governor on a regular basis and as directed by the Governor on the status of the Broadband Policy and Development Program, including plans and projects and advise the Governor on actions necessary, including proposed legislation, for broadband development;
- Evaluate the extent, quality, accessibility, and affordability of broadband services in the Commonwealth;
- Develop strategies to facilitate buildout and implementation of broadband infrastructure necessary to achieve functionally universal broadband access for all homes and businesses in the Commonwealth;
- Develop and advocate for policies that make high quality broadband service more accessible, affordable, and reliable in underserved and unserved communities; and
- Take such steps as necessary to promote strategies related to technology, information security, cybersecurity, software, hardware and infrastructure including in the following:
- Promoting the access, use and safety of modern broadband networks and technologies to enable all residents of the Commonwealth to effectively compete in the digital economy and improve their quality of life;
- Working to accelerate Commonwealth-wide deployment of high capacity and quality broadband infrastructure capable of meeting current business and community needs and future demands;
- Promoting the safety and security of Commonwealth-wide broadband networks and technologies;
- Advocating the adoption of streamlined public policies that remove barriers and support broadband infrastructure deployment in the Commonwealth to close digital divides;
- Developing broadband investment and deployment strategies for unserved and underserved areas;
- Promoting private sector, public sector and cooperative broadband solutions as appropriate to each community in the Commonwealth;
- Supporting local and regional broadband planning;
- Pursuing and leveraging federal sources of broadband funding to achieve broadband goals;
- Generating public awareness of the value of broadband technologies and applications;
- Promoting digital equity, ensuring all individuals and communities have the information technology capacity needed for full participation in the Commonwealth’s economy and way of life. and
- Garnering support, gathering input, and communicating needs to relevant Commonwealth and federal agencies.
- All departments and agencies of the Executive Branch, including public corporations and autonomous agencies, are directed or otherwise requested to coordinate with the Special Assistant for Broadband Policy and Development and the BPD Program, and shall lend support to the work of the BPD Program to the greatest possible extent without compromising existing responsibilities of the departments and agencies.
- The BPD Program may be allocated funds appropriated to the Office of the Governor or from available federal grants or other sources available to the Commonwealth to fund personnel, operations, capital expenses and projects.
- The Special Assistant, with the approval of the Governor, may make internal organizational arrangements to the BPD Program as may be administratively necessary to fulfill the purpose, duties and responsibilities outlined in this Directive.
- This Directive is effectively immediately. The BPD Program and the position of Special Assistant shall continue in existence for so long as the BPD Program and the Special Assistant are needed to ensure the Commonwealth’s participation in federal broadband programs and advance the Commonwealth’s broadband goals.
SIGNED AND PROMULGATED on this 21st day of April, 2023.
ARNOLD I. PALACIOS