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.
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.
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.
Nearly two years ago, NTIA launched the National Broadband Map, and today we are updating it, as we have every six months since its inception. The map provides the first-ever detailed datasets of broadband availability across the country, and it would not be possible without a unique partnership between the federal government, states, and the voluntary participation of many broadband providers.
With funding from NTIA, made available by the Recovery Act, each state undertook a massive effort to locate broadband availability by census block, essentially dividing the country into more than 11 million distinct areas. A census block is the smallest unit of geography for which population or other data are available, and on average has a population of about 28 people. With these data, we can now see change at a granular and national level every six months.
While stuck in construction traffic the other day, I thought of the old cliché that there are only two seasons – winter and road construction. But after visiting the Central Valley Independent Network’s (CVIN) offices in Fresno, California this summer, I would add broadband construction as a third season.
For CVIN and all other Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP) projects, summer is a time to build. Whether it’s hanging fiber on utility poles or trenching, plowing, and drilling underground, our awardees and their construction crews are busy at work.
Broadband is a world of extremes: it takes heavy-duty, 10-ton equipment to install fiber strands that are as small as a human hair. It takes months and years of hot, sweaty, dust-filled workdays to build a network that will provide massive amounts of data to end users at speeds measured in millionths of a second. It takes hundreds of man-hours, at a pace of 1000 feet per day to install the fiber that will connect our schools and hospitals with resources on the other side of the planet with just the click of a mouse.
As a Federal Program Officer overseeing a number of our BTOP projects, I’m constantly collecting numbers that gauge progress from my awardees: miles of fiber and conduit installed; crews in the field; targets and milestones for connecting community anchor institutions (CAIs) and so-called last mile service providers – all with an eye toward completing the projects on time and on budget. Despite the weekly conference calls, quarterly and annual reporting, and internal analysis at the program office, there’s just no substitute to getting out in the field to understand exactly what our awardees’ crews experience on a daily basis.
NTIA's Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP) is funding innovative programs across the nation that are working to close the digital divide. And a number of those projects are targeting a group of Americans too often left behind by today's fast-moving technology: seniors.
Broadband can improve quality of life for older Americans in many ways. Online videoconferencing technology can allow seniors to see grandchildren who live on the other side of the country. Medical websites can provide easy access to everything from health and wellness tips to information about illness and disease. Telemedicine and remote monitoring can enable elderly patients too frail to travel to consult with doctors at distant hospitals. Social media tools can combat isolation and even serve as a lifeline to the outside world.
What’s more, at a time when many Americans are working into their retirement years, Internet job listings and online employment applications – as well as Web-based training programs and classes - can help seniors retool for today’s economy.
But not enough older Americans are sharing in the benefits of broadband. NTIA, in collaboration with the Census Bureau, conducts some of the most extensive survey work on broadband adoption trends in the U.S. Our most recent published survey, in October of 2010, found that only 45 percent of U.S. households headed by someone 65 or older had broadband. That compares with 72 percent of households headed by someone ages 45 to 64, and 77 percent of households headed by someone ages 16 to 44.
BTOP is helping close this gap. Roughly 20 digital inclusion projects that receive funding through the Recovery Act program provide services targeted at seniors in some capacity. We’d like to tell you about three in particular:
I recently had the opportunity to speak to the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO) and the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) about NTIA’s Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP) and the work it is doing to promote broadband adoption in the Latino community.
A high-speed Internet connection can provide access to everything from online job postings to educational opportunities to valuable healthcare information. But too many Latino households remain cut off from these important benefits.
NTIA, in collaboration with the Census Bureau, conducts some of the most extensive survey work on broadband adoption trends in the U.S. Our most recent survey, in October of 2010, found that 72 percent of White households nationwide subscribed to broadband, compared with only 57 percent of Hispanic households. The survey also found that socioeconomic factors such as income and education do not fully explain the gap. Even after accounting for these factors through regression analysis, Hispanic households still lag White households in broadband adoption by 11 percentage points on a nationwide basis.
So NTIA’s BTOP program is supporting a number of projects specifically intended to benefit Latinos – by funding computer centers in neighborhoods with large immigrant communities, by offering computer training and digital literacy classes in Spanish, and by helping Latino entrepreneurs and Latino-owned small businesses get established online. I’d like to tell you about a few of those projects:
I recently had the opportunity to participate in a Community Broadband Summit held by the District of Columbia to explore the many ways that broadband drives economic growth, spurs community development and opens up new possibilities in jobs, education, healthcare and other areas.
A high-speed Internet connection and digital literacy skills can provide access to up-to-date job listings and new career paths, to specialized online classes and advanced educational content, to valuable healthcare resources and cutting-edge medical expertise. But even in the nation’s capital, there are still too many residents cut off from these opportunities because they are not online.
The D.C. Office of the Chief Technology Officer, or OCTO, which hosted the recent summit, is working to close this divide. And it is the Broadband Technology Opportunities Program, or BTOP, a Recovery Act program administered by NTIA, that makes OCTO’s digital inclusion work possible.
The District of Columbia is one of the few BTOP grantees across the country administering grant projects in all three categories of the program: network infrastructure, public computing centers and sustainable broadband adoption projects.
• OCTO is building a high-speed, fiber-optic network that will deliver Internet connections of up to 10 gigabits per second to as many as 290 D.C. anchor institutions. These anchors include schools, libraries, healthcare facilities, public safety entities and community colleges – many of which are located in low-income neighborhoods that suffer from high unemployment rates. The new Community Access Network – or DC-CAN – will also expand the District’s existing municipal fiber network, DC-Net, by another 170 miles. When the project is done, OCTO will manage more than 500 miles of fiber.
I recently had the opportunity to participate in a symposium at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Lab that highlighted the benefits that a new high-speed broadband network will bring to schools, libraries, healthcare institutions, public safety facilities and other community “anchors” across the state of Maryland.
Thanks to the Recovery Act, the Maryland Department of Information Technology is overseeing a $115 million grant from NTIA’s Broadband Technology Opportunities Program to build a statewide network that plans to deliver affordable broadband to every one of Maryland’s 24 counties and connect more than 1,000 anchor institutions.
The project – called the One Maryland Broadband Network – is putting down nearly 1,300 miles of new fiber and linking more than 2,400 miles of existing fiber. It will extend and connect three separate systems: the state-run networkMaryland, which was established for public sector use; the nine-jurisdiction Inter-County Broadband Network, which connects government buildings and other anchors across Central Maryland; and a non-profit consortium of rural carriers called Maryland Broadband Cooperative.
When it’s done in late 2013, the One Maryland Broadband Network will supply core infrastructure that local carriers can use to deploy broadband to almost 2 million homes and more than 400,000 businesses, including those in 15 rural counties in Western and Southern Maryland and on the state’s Eastern Shore. The new network will also deliver connections of up to 10 gigabits per second to anchor institutions.
A dozen years ago, a group of technology officials in the neighboring Wisconsin cities of Eau Claire and Chippewa Falls began meeting to share ideas on how to prepare their computer systems for Y2K. The group included officials from the city and county governments, local school districts, community libraries and medical institutions. And while Y2K came and went without incident, it soon became clear that the collaboration had the potential to turn into something much bigger.
Today, that group – called the Chippewa Valley Inter-networking Consortium, or CINC – operates an extensive broadband network that connects 150 schools, libraries, hospitals, clinics, technical colleges and university campuses across the Eau Claire and Chippewa Falls region. And now, the Broadband Technology Opportunities Program is expanding that original “community area network” and replicating its success in three other Wisconsin communities that see CINC as a model for establishing a 21st Century communications infrastructure.
Building Community Capacity through Broadband, or BCCB, is using $30 million in Recovery Act funding to lay down more than 600 miles of fiber that will extend the network in Eau Claire and Chippewa Falls and create new community area networks in Platteville, Wausau and Superior. The public-private project is being spearheaded by the University of Wisconsin-Extension program, but has many partners, including dozens of local governments and school districts.