Today is Digital Learning Day, a nationwide celebration of the innovative use of technology in education to improve learning and prepare students to succeed in college and careers in the 21st century.
The Obama administration recognizes the critical importance of digital learning to our nation’s future. Just yesterday, the White House announced over $750 million in private-sector commitments to supply free software, devices, home wireless connectivity and professional development support for teachers. These pledges bring us an important step closer to achieving the President’s ConnectED goal to get ultra-fast Internet connections and educational technology into K-12 classrooms nationwide.
NTIA has already enabled major advances in connecting schools to broadband and building the foundation for digital learning both in the classroom and beyond. Through our Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP), NTIA invested in roughly 230 projects nationwide to expand access to and use of broadband. Our network infrastructure projects are linking approximately 10,000 educational institutions to high-speed Internet. Our digital literacy training and broadband adoption programs are ensuring that teachers, students and parents have the skills and resources to take advantage of these high-speed connections. And our public computer center projects are providing Internet access to those who don’t have it at home.
Spread across the Four Corners region of the American Southwest, the Navajo Nation is home to up to 175,000 members of the Navajo Tribe. Tribal members live scattered across more than 27,000 square miles of land stretching from northeast Arizona to northwest New Mexico to southeast Utah.
It’s a place where many roads have never been paved, many buildings don’t have a formal postal address and thousands of families remain cut off from the electrical grid. At least 60 percent of homes don’t have landline telephone service even though wireless signals are often spotty or nonexistent. The 911 system often cannot track where people are calling from during an emergency. And high-speed Internet access has been almost entirely unavailable.
NTIA congratulates the winners of the 2013 Digital Cities awards, which recognize cities for the innovative use of technology to expand access to government services, promote citizen engagement, increase transparency, reduce costs and improve the lives of residents. The Center for Digital Government, a research and advisory firm focused on technology in state and local government, gave out the awards at the National League of Cities annual conference in Seattle last month.
NTIA is particularly pleased to note that a number of winning cities were lauded for projects and activities funded by our Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP). Over the past four years, the program has invested roughly $4 billion nationwide in network infrastructure, public computer centers and digital literacy training to help close the digital divide and ensure all Americans can benefit from the promise and potential of the Internet.
Boston, which received two separate BTOP grants, took first-place honors in the Digital Cities “large population” category. Boston used one federal grant to install 638 new computers in 54 libraries, community centers and public housing developments to provide Internet access to those who don’t have it at home. The city used the other investment to offer all sorts of training programs at these centers, covering everything from basic Web navigation and multimedia skills to adult education and job search assistance. For more information, go to http://bpcc.bpl.org/
With the Internet on our phones, our tablets, at the office and in our homes, most Americans have come to expect that our government, too, will be online. Still, whether it’s due to a lack of resources or skepticism over the need, some local governments have yet to fully embrace the potential of e-Government.
As part of our efforts to expand broadband access and adoption, NTIA’s State Broadband Initiative (SBI) has been working with states to help them provide the tools for citizens to participate in government online. These efforts are providing real benefits for consumers in many states, including allowing residents to communicate with government officials, make online tax or fine payments, and access numerous government forms.
With NTIA’s state broadband grants, states have taken a variety of approaches to helping localities better utilize the Internet. In Arkansas, Connect Arkansas, a nonprofit corporation focused on increasing broadband adoption and access, has used an SBI grant to work with 17 counties to help them launch engaging, transactional, and informational websites or to enhance existing sites. Six Arkansas counties have launched or are expected to launch new e-Government websites by the end of the year.
Often, the savings created by a new or expanded website offsets the costs of creating and maintaining these sites by allowing county and city employees to spend less time taking in-person payments or answering questions over the phone. Since the launch of the property tax feature on its new e-government website in March 2012, Sharp County, Ark., has collected $360,000 in property taxes online. This new feature has saved county staff as much as a full week in time as well as postage and stationery fees, according to County Collector Charlotte Ratliff.
President Obama’s ConnectED proposal aims to bring next-generation broadband, with speeds of at least 100 megabits per second and high-speed wireless, to K-12 schools across the nation.
Nowhere is the need greater – or the challenge tougher – than in rural America. High-speed Internet connections can give students living in remote communities access to classes, teachers and instructional materials that those in urban regions may take for granted. But with so many rural areas still lacking advanced telecommunications infrastructure, schools in these places often remain cut off from the promise of broadband.
In Michigan, a non-profit broadband provider called Merit Network is tackling this challenge by connecting K-12 districts in some of the most far-flung reaches of the state.
Merit, which owns and operates a statewide research and education network, dates back to the early academic and government networks that evolved into today’s Internet. It was established in 1966 by the University of Michigan, Michigan State University and Wayne State University.
Today, Merit is using more than $100 million in federal funding from NTIA’s Broadband Technology Opportunities Program to install more than 2,000 miles of fiber to expand its network across the rural stretches of the state’s northern Lower Peninsula and the remote, economically distressed Upper Peninsula. Before the NTIA investment, “there wasn’t a whole lot of infrastructure” in the region, says Jason Russell, Merit’s member relations director.
Late last month, I had the pleasure of joining representatives from the Keystone Initiative for Network Based Education and Research (KINBER) as they celebrated the completion of their statewide network linking many of the state’s colleges and universities. What had long been out of reach for Pennsylvania’s education community had finally become a reality with the help of NTIA’s broadband grant program.
Unlike most of its neighboring states, Pennsylvania did not have a statewide broadband network to serve the ever-expanding needs of educational institutions, healthcare centers, and other community institutions. That is until KINBER leveraged a $99.6 million grant from NTIA, along with $29 million in matching contributions, to build the Pennsylvania Research and Education Network (PennREN). The recently completed 1,600-mile statewide network currently provides affordable broadband service to customers, mostly colleges and universities, through 63 connection points on the network reaching 50 counties throughout Pennsylvania.
The White House recently set an ambitious goal to connect 99 percent of American students to ultra-fast broadband within five years. President Obama’s ConnectED initiative would bring Internet speeds of at least 100 megabits per second and high-speed wireless to K-12 schools across the nation.
At NTIA, we are already making these types of connections a reality in K-12 schools through our Broadband Technology Opportunities Program, which has invested about $4 billion in roughly 230 projects nationwide to expand broadband availability and use. Of our 116 network infrastructure projects, about 75 percent are linking or supplying additional bandwidth to schools. Overall, roughly 10,000 schools in 44 states are being connected or upgraded, and almost 70 percent are getting access to speeds of at least 100 megabits.
Thanks to our grant program, teachers, students and parents are witnessing how technology can transform education, expand student horizons and create new opportunities for those living in even the most remote corners of the country.
A high-speed Internet connection can let students take online courses and access cutting-edge research at universities across the country. It can bring Advanced Placement classes and foreign language programs to small rural schools with limited resources. And it can help teachers customize lessons for students at different learning levels by leveraging all sorts of online curriculum materials.
To illustrate the impact of the $4 billion Recovery Act investment in the Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP) and State Broadband Initiative (SBI), NTIA has developed a user friendly online tool to visualize the high-speed broadband networks, public computer centers and Internet training programs funded across the country.
The BTOP map went live in 2012 with data submitted by NTIA’s grantees in their 2011 progress reports. And we recently updated the map using data from last year’s progress reports.
As of the end of 2012, our projects had built or upgraded more than 86,000 miles of high-speed network infrastructure and connected more than 12,000 schools, libraries and other anchor institutions. They had installed more than 41,000 workstations in public computer centers, provided more than 12 million hours of computer and Internet training to more than 4 million people, and recorded more than 521,000 new residential broadband subscriptions.
The map – located at http://www2.ntia.doc.gov/BTOPmap/ - lets users drill down beyond these high-level numbers. Select a state or type in a zip code and the map will show the broadband networks that NTIA is funding in that location, as well as the anchor institutions that are being connected by those new networks. The map also displays local computer centers that offer broadband access to the public, and local training programs that are teaching digital literacy skills to those who need help getting online. In addition, the map features “state dashboards,” which provide snapshots of the investments on a state-by-state basis. All of the data sets underlying the map are available through a downloadable Excel file.
Sixteen projects funded through NTIA’s Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP) will be honored tonight for being selected as 2013 Computerworld Honor Laureates. They’ll each receive medallions inscribed with the Computerworld Honors Program’s mission, “A Search for New Heroes,” at the Computerworld Honors Awards Gala in Washington, D.C.
The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA)-funded NTIA programs selected are: California Emerging Technology Fund; City of Boston; City and County of San Francisco; Clackamas County; Colorado Governor’s Office of Information Technology (SBI grant); Government of DC; Horizon Telcom; Internet2; MCNC; Merit Network; Northwest Open Access Network; Ohio Academic Resources Network (subrecipient); OneCommunity; School Board of Miami-Dade County, Florida; Technology for All; and the Youth Policy Institute.
In its 25th year, the Computerworld Honors Program recognizes achievements in 11 award categories. The Recovery Act-funded BTOP and State Broadband Initiative (SBI) grant recipients selected as Laureates are honored in seven of these categories: Collaboration, Economic Development, Emerging Technology, Human Services, Innovation, Mobile Access, and Philanthropy. This year, 22 judges selected 269 Laureates from more than 700 nominations, representing 29 countries.
Today, NTIA is pleased to introduce a new set of reports, the Broadband Briefs series, that use publicly available data collected by the U.S. Department of Commerce to examine broadband availability in greater detail. This report further examines improvements in broadband availability by speed, technology and location since 2010. NTIA noted in January that most Americans (98 percent) now have access to basic broadband service, and this report explores the change in availability over the last two years -- and the consistency with which broadband speeds are now available across the country.
Since June 2010, broadband availability at all speed levels has increased and basic broadband service is nearly universal in urban areas. While there is still a gap in broadband availability between urban and rural areas, 91 percent of rural Americans have access to basic broadband service as of June 2012. NTIA has been working to address gaps in availability and increase demand for services throughout the country through its Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP), while the Rural Utilities Service’s Broadband Initiatives Program (BIP) has targeted rural areas in particular. Both programs were part of a 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act initiative aimed at expanding broadband access and adoption. NTIA’s State Broadband Initiative (SBI) has also supported broadband expansion and adoption, state and local planning and capacity-building activities.