The Broadband Technology Opportunities Program is producing jobs, driving growth, providing tools for economic empowerment and improving lives across the country. That was the takeaway from a recent panel discussion at the annual State of the Net conference held in Washington, D.C. last month. The conference, which is organized by the Advisory Committee to the Congressional Internet Caucus, explores the biggest technology policy issues of the day. This year’s conference included a panel devoted to BTOP, a Recovery Act program administered by NTIA that is investing in roughly 230 projects to increase broadband access and adoption around the country.
The BTOP infrastructure projects are bringing broadband to places where it’s lagging and supplying high-capacity connections to schools, hospitals and other anchor institutions that need more bandwidth. These projects are also spurring private-sector investment since local Internet providers can connect to these critical new "middle mile" facilities to serve more homes and businesses. The BTOP adoption programs are teaching computer and digital literacy skills, providing online job search and resume writing assistance, and even training people for technical jobs in the information-age economy. And the BTOP computer centers - located in schools, libraries and other public buildings - are providing broadband access for people who want to go online but lack the resources at home.
As part of our BTOP series: Tales from the Front Lines, today we are highlighting North Carolina infrastructure grantee MCNC.
MCNC, a nonprofit broadband provider that operates the North Carolina Research and Education Network (NCREN), is using Recovery Act funds to deploy or upgrade 2,600 miles of fiber in rural areas across the state. The network will initially deliver speeds of 10 gigabits per second and eventually scale to a 100-gigabit-per-second middle-mile network. It will extend the reach of the existing NCREN system to connect nearly 2,700 additional anchor institutions, including libraries, hospitals and public safety facilities. The new network will also deliver faster and more reliable connections to K-12 schools, colleges and universities already on NCREN. And it will be an important source of dark fiber for commercial Internet providers that want to expand their own systems. MCNC's project is already creating construction jobs and jobs for local vendors such as CommScope in Hickory, N.C., which is supplying fiber and other materials. It is also laying the groundwork for economic revitalization in places such as Kannapolis, N.C., a former textile mill town that is reinventing itself as a biotechnology and life sciences hub.
MCNC construction crew at work.
When discussing digital literacy, most conversations center around people's initial contact with computers and learning how the Internet is relevant to their lives; the basics on how to obtain information, goods, and services online; and developing the threshold skills necessary to succeed in the digital economy. These basic skills are building blocks for success, and are the focus of many of our Broadband Technology Opportunity Program (BTOP) projects.
Digital literacy is an ongoing process, however, and “advanced” digital literacy can have tremendous economic impacts – both from the perspective of the person learning marketable computer skills necessary to compete in today’s digital economy, and from the macroeconomic perspective in helping to realize the President’s vision of a more competitive America built to last.
Codecademy, whose work on digitalliteracy.gov is profiled here, is taking advanced digital literacy to the next level by offering free interactive programming lessons for those interested in learning the basics of computer programming online. Codecademy’s Code Year initiative offers free weekly coding lessons only for a time investment of approximately five hours per week. Students will learn extremely marketable skills such as how to build apps and websites. These skills foster entrepreneurship and enhance employability. Codecademy is also participating in the Administration’s Summer Jobs+ program, where it will offer a course called Code Summer+, which is an abbreviated version of Code Year tailored to teaching low-income youth how to build innovative apps online and helping to connect students with tech companies.
This week I had the opportunity to participate in a panel discussion hosted by the National Organization of Black Elected Legislative Women, or NOBEL, that examined how broadband is helping to address many of America’s most pressing challenges.
A robust broadband infrastructure is critical for America to remain competitive in the 21st century. Broadband provides a foundation for innovation, job creation and economic growth. Broadband is also transforming healthcare by enabling patients in rural areas to consult with medical specialists hundreds of miles away. It is opening doors in education by allowing students to take online classes at universities across the country. And it is changing the way we communicate, form personal connections, access information, shop and conduct many everyday transactions.
The Obama administration is working to ensure that more Americans have the resources and skills to share in these benefits and opportunities. This is particularly critical in today’s job market, since many job openings are posted only online and since digital literacy skills are a requirement in many workplaces.
The U.S Department of Commerce today released a comprehensive report on “The Competitiveness and Innovative Capacity of the United States.”
Part of the report explores the federal role in providing a 21st century infrastructure and highlights Administration efforts already underway, including NTIA’s BTOP program, which is expanding broadband access and adoption in communities across the country.
These projects are already having a positive impact on the lives of Americans: new public computer centers are open, free computer classes and job-trainings are underway, and infrastructure projects are under construction. Already, grantees in NTIA’s BTOP program say that they have deployed or upgraded more than 29,000 miles of broadband infrastructure and installed more than 24,000 workstations in public computer centers. In the last quarter, grantees provided more than 755,000 hours of training to around 220,000 participants. And grantees say that their programs have already led to a total of more than 230,000 new broadband subscribers.
Deputy Assistant Secretary Anna Gomez discusses the important role of broadband Internet in boosting America’s competitiveness. (Video Transcript)
Too many Native American communities are on the wrong side of the digital divide, lacking access to broadband Internet service and to the economic, educational, and health care opportunities that it enables. NTIA’s broadband grants program, funded by the Recovery Act, is tackling this challenge by bringing broadband Internet facilities to tribal lands and providing computer training to tribal communities. We awarded grants to five tribal authorities for infrastructure and public computer center projects, a subset of the more than 60 broadband projects that will directly benefit tribal communities throughout the United States. Here are some examples:
· In the Navajo Nation, an area with rugged terrain and significant poverty, approximately 60 percent of residents lack even basic telephone service. The Navajo Tribal Utility Authority is now constructing broadband infrastructure that will ultimately cover 15,000 square miles in Arizona, Utah, and New Mexico. Among other benefits, the project plans to connect 49 Chapter Houses, which serve as community centers for the Navajo population, and pave the way to bring telemedicine services, such as remote diagnostics and patient consultations, to this rural population.
Navajo Tribal Utility Authority construction crews prepare electric infrastructure for installation of fiber-optic cable in the 550-mile broadband infrastructure project.
According to NTIA’s National Broadband Map, less than half of Puerto Ricans have access to basic broadband service, which consumers increasingly need to apply for and get a job, access valuable education and healthcare information, and participate in today’s digital economy.
To help fill this gap, NTIA awarded Puerto Rico two Recovery Act grants to expand and enhance broadband infrastructure. While I was in San Juan earlier this month at the Puerto Rico Chamber of Commerce’s Annual Telecom Conference, I had the opportunity to visit one of these projects.
I joined members of Critical Hub staff and Puerto Rico Chief Information Officer Juan Eugenio Rodriguez on a tour of Critical Hub’s data center facilities in San Juan, part of its Puerto Rico Bridge Initiative (PRBI) BTOP project.
Critical Hub Networks, which received a $25.6 million grant, is expanding high-speed Internet access in underserved areas of Puerto Rico by establishing a broadband “bridge” to the United States mainland and deploying a high-capacity middle-mile network on the islands. Additionally, Critical Hub will also offer a 25 percent broadband discount to K-12 schools to help improve education and distance learning.
In honor of Veterans Day, we are highlighting resources that can help veterans make a successful transition to the civilian workforce, including projects funded by the Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP) and State Broadband Initiative. These Recovery Act programs, overseen by NTIA, are not only expanding broadband access and adoption nationwide, but also offering tools for veterans and their family members who are seeking employment. For example:
The Massachusetts Broadband Institute is building a web portal for veterans and their families using funding from the State Broadband Initiative. The project is a collaboration with the Massachusetts Department of Veterans’ Services and the Home Base Program, a partnership between the Red Sox Foundation and Massachusetts General Hospital. The portal will give veterans and their family members one online destination to find links to federal, state, and local services and benefits, including resources on housing, education, and employment. The Massachusetts Broadband Institute, a division of the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative, a public economic development agency, will also provide training to help veterans use the portal effectively.
Earlier this year, we launched a ground-breaking interactive online map that shows what high-speed Internet services are available across the country. Like the spread of railroads and electrification spurred new economic opportunities during America’s past, broadband is supporting new economic opportunities in America today. Experts agree that we must better understand where sufficient broadband exists in order to address where it does not.
The National Broadband Map, powered by a searchable database of more than 20 million records, has already drawn more than 500,000 different users. Today we are rolling out the first significant update of the map since it was unveiled in February. The map has new data, current as of December 31. And the number of broadband providers supplying that data has increased to 1,731, up from 1,650 at launch.
Most of these new additions are small providers, including rural companies in places as varied as Alaska and Massachusetts, that may not be household names. Including them in the map will help ensure that consumers shopping for broadband service are aware of all their options.
In addition, the map now offers a new research tool that produces snapshots of individual broadband providers, showing where they offer service, what speeds they offer, and how much of the country – or of a particular state or county – they cover.
The map is an ambitious, unprecedented undertaking – the result of the most extensive set of American broadband availability data ever published – and it is only possible because of a unique federal-state-private partnership. NTIA created and is updating the map twice yearly in collaboration with the FCC, using data that every state, territory, and the District of Columbia (or their designees) collects from broadband providers or other sources.
Last Friday, I visited Kannapolis, North Carolina to attend a groundbreaking ceremony for the second phase of an infrastructure project that will deploy or improve broadband networks throughout much of the state, particularly in rural areas. The effort is led by MCNC, a nonprofit broadband provider that has operated the North Carolina Research and Education Network (NCREN) for more than 25 years. The project—funded by a $104 million Recovery Act investment and $40 million in private sector matching funds—will deploy approximately 1,650 miles of new fiber. Combined with upgraded facilities, the project will add 2,600 miles of new or improved infrastructure to MCNC’s network, extending broadband to nearly 1,200 community anchor institutions, including universities, schools, community colleges, libraries, healthcare providers, and public safety facilities. Nearly 500 of those anchor institutions have already benefitted from improved access to the broadband network. Joe Freddoso, the president and CEO of MCNC, said they applied for the Recovery Act funding because bandwidth use by North Carolina institutions was growing by 30 to 40 percent each year—and without network improvements, rural communities would not be able to meet their future bandwidth needs.
In fact, before we funded MCNC, its network delivered speeds of 1 Gbps or faster to only 12 out of 100 counties in North Carolina. MCNC will expand that number to 83 counties—a nearly 600 percent increase in statewide broadband capabilities. This will not only improve education and other public services, but it can also spur additional private sector investment. For example, as with other Recovery-Act-funded broadband networks, local Internet providers will be able to utilize the new infrastructure to extend broadband service to homes and businesses that may otherwise be too costly to reach.