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Bringing Broadband to Schools in Rural Michigan

Fri, August 16, 2013 by Anthony Wilhelm, Associate Administrator of NTIA’s Office of Telecommunications and Information Applications
Anthony Wilhelm, Associate Administrator of NTIA’s Office of Telecommunications and Information Applications

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.


Installing fiber.
Installing fiber.


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.

Building a Statewide Educational Network in the Keystone State

Thu, July 11, 2013 by Anthony Wilhelm, Associate Administrator of NTIA’s Office of Telecommunications and Information Applications
Anthony Wilhelm, Associate Administrator of NTIA’s Office of Telecommunications and Information Applications

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.

KINBER construction crew strings fiber
A KINBER construction crew strings fiber between telephone poles in a Pennsylvania community
(click to enlarge)

Connecting America’s Schools to Next-Generation Broadband

Mon, July 1, 2013 by NTIA

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.

Mapping NTIA's Broadband Investments

Tue, June 18, 2013 by NTIA

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.

Map SectionThe 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.

16 BTOP Projects Honored as Broadband “Heroes”

Mon, June 3, 2013 by NTIA

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.

NTIA Explores Broadband Availability in New Report Series

Mon, May 13, 2013 by Anne Neville, Director, State Broadband Initiative
Anne Neville, Director, State Broadband Initiative

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.

Spotlight on NTIA: BTOP’s Emy Tseng

Fri, May 3, 2013 by NTIA

This blog is part of a new “Spotlight on NTIA” series. We’ll be highlighting the work that NTIA employees are doing to advance NTIA’s mission of promoting broadband adoption, finding spectrum to meet the growing demand for wireless technologies, and ensuring the Internet remains an engine for innovation and economic growth.

Emy Tseng photoMany people spend their working lives in one career. Emy Tseng, a program officer with NTIA’s Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP), is working on three. Tseng has worked at NTIA since it launched BTOP in 2009. But working to expand broadband adoption and digital literacy wasn’t her first calling.

After graduating from Brown University with a math and physics degree, Tseng went to work as a software engineer. After years of working with technology, she decided she was more interested in working on ways to provide access to new technologies. In 1999, she left her job to obtain a degree in technology and policy at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

The degree eventually led her to San Francisco, where she landed a job with ZeroDivide.org, an organization aimed at promoting digital inclusion. She went on to lead the City of San Francisco’s efforts to close its digital divide.

After NTIA launched BTOP in 2009, Tseng headed back to the East Coast to work as a program officer on its sustainable broadband adoption and public computer center grants.

The 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act provided funding for the BTOP program, which focused on broadband sustainability, public computer centers and broadband infrastructure.

Promoting the Benefits of Digital Literacy

Thu, March 21, 2013 by Karen Hanson, Program Officer, Broadband Technology Opportunities Program
Karen Hanson, Program Officer, Broadband Technology Opportunities Program

Closing the digital divide – and getting all Americans online – requires a multipronged approach. It’s not enough just to provide affordable computer equipment and access to broadband at a reasonable price. Just as important is digital literacy training to teach people how to use the Internet and take advantage of everything it has to offer.

That’s why NTIA’s Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP) has invested roughly $200 million in public computer centers that provide Internet access for those who don’t have it at home, and roughly $250 million in broadband adoption programs that cover everything from how to navigate the Web and set up an email account to how to post a resume online and conduct an online job search.

Today, we are pleased to spread the word about the launch of an important new effort to raise awareness of the benefits of digital literacy and promote programs working to ensure that all Americans can participate in our information-age society.

Connect2Compete, a non-profit seeking to close the digital divide, has teamed up with the Ad Council to kick off the “EveryoneOn, 3-21” Public Service Announcement (PSA) campaign just in time for March 21, or 3/21.

A major goal of the new campaign is to help people stuck on the wrong side of the divide find free computer classes and other broadband training opportunities in their communities. The campaign includes a 1-800 number, a mobile text short code and a Website – www.EveryoneOn.org – that let users look up local class offerings, public computer centers and even WiFi hot spots. We expect this to help even more people find BTOP-funded computer centers and training programs across the country.

NTIA Oversight Is Helping BTOP Projects Succeed

Tue, February 26, 2013 by Assistant Secretary for Communications and Information and NTIA Administrator Lawrence E. Strickling
Assistant Secretary for Communications and Information and NTIA Administrator Lawrence E. Strickling

As the Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP) nears completion, NTIA staff is continuing to work closely with our grantees to ensure that projects are wrapping up on time and within budget, delivering the promised broadband benefits to the communities they serve.

Ensuring projects meet their milestones and protecting taxpayer funds is of paramount importance to NTIA. Our staff performs extensive and diligent oversight and provides technical assistance to our recipients tailored to their needs. This oversight involves a significant level of effort, and requires our staff to sometimes take tough enforcement action to protect taxpayer funds.

NTIA oversees our projects in a number of ways. Staff remains in close and frequent contact with award recipients via regularly scheduled conference calls, email exchanges, drop-in calls on specific administrative or programmatic topics, and in-person conferences. These contacts serve as a means to reinforce the terms and conditions associated with each award and help ensure that NTIA quickly addresses challenges that arise. Additionally, recipients must report quarterly and annually to NTIA on key financial and programmatic activities. These reports are posted publicly and provide detailed information on progress in achieving program outcomes, use of funds, challenges faced, and expected future progress. Finally, NTIA conducts site visits to projects and has conducted over 150 oversight visits representing more than 94 percent of BTOP federal award dollars.

As issues arise, NTIA utilizes tools such as technical assistance, Performance Improvement Plans (PIPs), Corrective Action Plans (CAPs), award suspension, or award termination, to highlight concerns and provide opportunities for recipients to get back on track.

Bringing Broadband to Rural South Dakota

Wed, February 13, 2013 by NTIA

To understand how rural South Dakota is, consider this: The state ranks 17th in the nation in terms of geographic size, but 46th in population - with fewer than 820,000 people, according to the 2010 Census. In some parts of South Dakota, the distance between farmsteads can be six miles. Cattle outnumber people four to one.

For telecommunications companies, the state’s sparse population means that there are not enough customers in many places to enable them to recoup costly investments in advanced telecommunications networks needed to deliver high-speed Internet service.

But even in the most remote corners of the country, access to broadband is becoming critical to fully participating in today’s digital society and information-age economy.

That’s why NTIA’s Broadband Technology Opportunities Program awarded a $20.6 million grant to SDN Communications just over three years ago to bring broadband to parts of South Dakota that otherwise might never get it. The grant was one of the first to be announced in the $4 billion BTOP program, which is investing in roughly 230 projects nationwide that are building the technology infrastructure and skills that America needs to compete in the 21st century.

SDN Communications, a partnership of 27 independent telecom carriers covering 80 percent of South Dakota, is using its BTOP funding to expand its 1,850-mile, 800-gigabit fiber network by almost 400 additional miles and add an additional 100 gigabits of bandwidth along high-capacity routes.

The project is bringing broadband connections to nearly 310 new anchor institutions, including schools, libraries, hospitals, clinics, public safety agencies, government buildings and National Guard facilities. It is also bringing faster connections to more than 220 anchor institutions already on the system.

BTOP in Action

A group of students use computers to learn digital literacy skills WinstonNet, Inc.

By October 2011, WinstonNet opened two new computer centers and upgraded 32 other centers at...

btop map logo
digital literacy logo

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