Spotlight on Commerce: Anne Neville, Director, State Broadband Initiative, National Telecommunications and Information Administration


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Anne Neville, Director, State Broadband Initiative, National Telecommunications and Information Administration
Anne Neville, Director, State Broadband Initiative, National Telecommunications and Information Administration

Post by Anne Neville.

Ed. note: This post is part of the Spotlight on Commerce series highlighting members of the Department of Commerce and their contributions to an Economy Built to Last.

The mission of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) is to expand U.S. broadband Internet access and adoption, increase the availability of spectrum for all users, and ensure that the Internet remains an engine for continued innovation and economic growth. I help support that mission as Director of the State Broadband Initiative. In a partnership with all 50 states, five territories, the District of Columbia and the Federal Communications Commission, I have overseen the collection and publication of the National Broadband Map, the nation’s first comprehensive set of broadband availability data. Over the last four years, we have updated the dataset that powers the broadband map with about 25 million new records every six months. As part of this work, I also have managed a nationwide grant program that funded the state broadband data collection and capacity building activities that supported each state’s effort to succeed in the digital economy, making sure that technology can help power the middle-class economy.

As a kid growing up in Berlin, Connecticut, I remember excitedly phoning a friend a down the street to tell him my dad and I were about to “call” him on our modem. I also remember my profound embarrassment when my dad asked a bunch of my middle school friends if we wanted to build a map on the computer. My face turned red because I wanted to be cool and back then building maps to tell a story was not the route to cool. But in my own time, I spent hours in my room sometimes playing video games, but more often exploring, breaking and fixing the computer -- programming wrong and then doing it right. I thank my dad for teaching me to be fearless when it came to exploring technology, because if I ‘broke’ something, there was always a way to fix it later.

I went on to attend the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. I was a philosophy major, student government junkie, and fixer of friends’ computers. When a classmate suggested that the campus computer services might hire me, I actually laughed. With all the technology I knew and the skills I had, I didn’t think I was good enough to do more than dabble.  I’m thankful they saw in me what I didn’t yet see myself.  My job in the basement of Wilson Library – where I helped professors learn how to use computers, graduate students save their now-garbled theses and students get expanded Internet access through a new campus-wide networking project -- changed how I perceived my abilities. And that changed the opportunities that were available to me.  

Whether you gained your technology skills formally or informally, working in technology doesn’t require you to work in a tech-based organization. My first tech job outside of college was at a YMCA as an AmeriCorps*VISTA volunteer. It’s where I opened a computer training center for youth, parents and seniors. I was lucky because when I started that job – about a year out of college - I still didn’t yet know it was what I wanted to do. I benefited tremendously from colleagues, most of whom were trained social workers. They helped teach me to think first about our clients’ needs and then about how technology could support them. Our clients taught me how technology could help expand educational opportunities and improve job opportunities. By the end of my VISTA service, I knew that I loved this work and that I wanted to support policies that would make technology more accessible to communities like the one I was serving.

Unfortunately, I didn’t actually have any experience in policy. So, like many people beginning a career, I volunteered and I learned, running a local coalition of non-profit technology professionals and serving on the board of a statewide policy group. Through these activities, I engaged my passion, supported my community and gained experience that helped me become competitive for other jobs later.

My high school history teacher, Doc Marcus, gave me a copy of Speak Now Against the Day when I graduated. I’ve taken that book with me wherever I’ve moved and re-read his inscription many times: “Dear Anne, Pursue Justice.” We all have the capacity to do that during our lives. There is no one best way and there is no Top 10 listicle that can answer it for you. But, here are a few items to keep in mind: Find the issue or idea that motivates you and go after it; be ok if you get lost along the way, or if your path isn’t straight; and remember that you might find the opportunity to tackle your challenge in a place that isn’t always obvious but is often very gratifying. For young women especially, what made you feel uncool at 13 just might make you feel fulfilled at 38.

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Last updated: 2015-03-30 11:14

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