Last week, I traveled to Anchorage for the annual economic summit hosted by the Southwest Alaska Municipal Conference, a non-profit regional economic development organization. The Southwest Alaska Municipal Conference is working to improve the quality of life and drive responsible development across the Alaska Peninsula, the Aleutian Islands, Bristol Bay, the Kodiak Archipelago and the Pribilof Islands.
Last week’s summit had a packed agenda, covering everything from energy conservation to sustainable fishing practices. One big topic of conversation was broadband and the power of high-speed Internet to open up economic, educational and social opportunities in some of the poorest, most isolated communities in our nation.
It’s no wonder that the Alaska state nickname is “The Last Frontier.” The state is more than double the size of Texas, with more than 3 million lakes, 34,000 miles of shoreline, and 29,000 square miles of ice fields. But with fewer than 750,000 residents, Alaska includes some of the most remote, sparsely populated pockets of the U.S. Many Alaska Natives reside in tiny villages with just a few hundred people and lead subsistence lifestyles.
Broadband offers these communities a way to connect with the wider world and access everything from online classes to healthcare services to job opportunities. It also offers Alaska Natives a way to preserve their indigenous culture for future generations and share it with a global audience.
At the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, we see first-hand evidence of this through our investments in several Alaska broadband projects:
Since its launch in 2011, the National Broadband Map, a joint project of NTIA and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), has been providing key data on where broadband is available throughout the country and who is providing it. Today, we’re rolling out the seventh edition of the map. In addition to providing updated data, the latest version of the broadband map includes some enhancements such as a more detailed summary page for each state as well as additional information about broadband providers and their subsidiaries.
The latest data, from June 30, 2013, shows the country continues to make steady progress in expanding access to broadband. Most Americans have access to wired broadband (93 percent), while 98 percent have access to wireless broadband at the most basic broadband speed, defined at 3 Megabits per second (Mbps) downstream and 768 kilobits per second (kbps) up. The data also show that 99 percent of the U.S. population has access to this basic broadband through either a wired or wireless service. Here are other highlights from the latest data:
• 98 percent of Americans have access to broadband at combined speeds of 6 Mbps downstream and 1.5 Mbps upstream – a slight boost from the December 2012 figure of 96 percent.
• 83 percent of the population has access to broadband speeds of at least 25 Mbps – a big jump from the 50 percent of the population who had access to broadband at this speed when we began collecting data in June 2010.
• 57 percent of the population has access to broadband speeds of 100 Mbps or more, compared with only 10 percent in June 2010.
• 8.9 percent of the population has access to 1 Gigabit per second service, as of June 2013, compared with only 1 percent in June 2010. A number of 1 gigabit services are primarily intended for businesses.
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.