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.
Last week I visited a new WorkSource Center Satellite in South Los Angeles, where a Recovery Act investment by NTIA has funded 25 new computer stations that community members seeking jobs can use. Coupled with hands-on assistance and career counseling from trained personnel, this investment is creating economic opportunities in a neighborhood where poverty and unemployment rates are unacceptably high. All told, NTIA’s $7.5 million grant to the City of Los Angeles for its Computer Access Network (LA CAN) project – part of a $4 billion Recovery Act investment to expand broadband access and adoption in communities nationwide – will upgrade more than 180 public computer centers in some of the city’s neediest neighborhoods.
The WorkSource Center Satellite is located with the Chicana Service Action Center, whose CEO, Sophia Esparza, told me how the project is preparing job-seekers, not for yesterday’s jobs, but for the “green jobs” of the future. Customers, including returning veterans and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) recipients, are benefiting from strong partnerships between the city and local employers to place solar installers, energy auditors, lead green technicians and electrical auto technicians into well-paying jobs.
The center expects to serve about 150,000 jobseekers annually. The project team illustrated for me how the Center is helping unemployed residents transition to the workplace. In recent months, for instance, a 51-year-old man who was receiving Food Stamps came to the Center in desperate need of a job. After attending workshops on basic computer literacy, resume writing, and interview skills, he is now working as a sales representative and looking forward to his first pay raise. Another example: a 25-year-old single mother of two, who never held a permanent job and relied solely on government assistance, attended workshops and received one-on-one support from the Center. She is now employed as a data entry clerk.
This week construction began on a fiber-optic network that will bring broadband Internet service to more than 120 communities in western and north central Massachusetts. Thanks in large part to a $45.4 million Recovery Act investment from NTIA, the project will help residents and businesses in these underserved parts of the state to better compete in today’s knowledge-based economy.
On Tuesday, I joined state and local officials, members of the project team at the Massachusetts Broadband Institute (a state-created organization that is our grantee), businesses, and others in the community to discuss the initiative, called MassBroadband 123. It will deploy broadband service to nearly 1,400 community anchor institutions, including schools, community colleges, libraries, healthcare providers, and public safety facilities – like the Sandisfield Fire Station where we met, and whose fire chief has emphasized the importance of up-to-date technology for keeping residents safe.
The project estimates they will create hundreds of jobs to build the network, but there are also longer-term economic benefits. For example, as a Sandisfield city councilman explained, the town has lost many residents to other locations where broadband, and more jobs, exist. High-speed Internet will enable residents to stay in town while working in the global market. Small businesses in western Massachusetts will be able to access consumers across the U.S. and around the world. Doctors in rural communities will also be able to connect with top specialists, whether they’re in Boston, Baton Rouge, or Bangalore. And students will have access to classrooms in the world’s best colleges. (No wonder there were even children in the crowd holding signs that read, “Broadband Rocks!”)
This month I had the honor of hosting our Federal, State and local partners as we formally kicked off the construction phase of the One Maryland: Inter-County Broadband Network (ICBN) Recovery Act funded-project. This project is important to me because it will allow the State of Maryland to bring sorely needed broadband resources to every corner of the State and foster cooperation across many layers of government.
The ICBN is just one leg of a three-legged stool that we hope makes Maryland the most wired state in the nation. Last fall, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act's (ARRA) Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP) granted the One Maryland Broadband Network (OMBN) $115 million. Howard County is managing a $72 million pool of BTOP funds in Central Maryland. The State of Maryland forms the second leg, and is partnering with an agency called the Maryland Broadband Cooperative (MDBC). Together, those two groups are using an additional $43 million to serve the more rural regions in Southern and Western Maryland and the Eastern Shore.
We expect that when construction is completed in 2013, the overall project will have installed approximately 1,300 miles of fiber and delivered broadband connections to over 1,000 anchor institutions across the state: schools, community colleges, public safety agencies, libraries, government facilities and hospitals.
Yesterday I was happy to participate in a panel discussion about broadband at the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO) annual conference in San Antonio. NALEO members recognize that broadband Internet is one of the tools necessary to help their communities thrive in today's economy. In fact, I think that any conference focused on building stronger communities should include a discussion of broadband - it's a critical ingredient for job creation, economic growth, and improving education, health care, and public safety.
I talked about challenges and opportunities. NTIA's data show that although 90-95 percent of Americans live in areas with access to broadband, only 68 percent of households subscribe to the service. In fact, more than 28 percent of Americans do not use the Internet in any location, which means they are cut off from countless educational and job opportunities.
The issue is even greater for Latinos. While the Internet subscribership rate for Hispanics increased by five percentage points last year, it is still only 45 percent. Even after adjusting for socioeconomic factors like income and education, Latinos still significantly lag the national rate in broadband adoption.
Our research shows that those who lack broadband at home most commonly cite lack of interest or need as the primary reason. Interestingly, while those are certainly factors for Hispanic non-adopters, they most often cite affordability as the primary reason. So there is no single solution to bridging the digital divide.
But the good news is that NTIA, and others in the Obama administration, are working on many fronts to expand broadband access and adoption, including efforts targeted to Hispanics and other communities where broadband is underutilized, such as rural Americans, seniors, people with disabilities, and other minorities.
Supplies on hand? Check.
Equipment cataloged? Check.
Student union volunteers standing by? Check.
Setting up a public computer center is no small task. Fortunately, one BTOP project, Philadelphia’s Freedom Rings, created a step-by-step account of a recent “Setup Day” for a local public computer center. The article details the steps the grantee and local community members took to get the center up and running and offers tips on items such as laying out the classroom, cataloging equipment, and installing an operating system.
Public computer centers can be a lifeline for those who cannot afford a computer or Internet access at home. Many BTOP-funded public computer centers also provide training for people to develop the skills needed to use technology effectively and participate in the 21st century workforce.
This account can be a helpful resource for other public computer grantees – or other groups that are developing their own computer centers.
We encourage you to take a look at “How to Create a Public Computer Center” on the website of The New America Foundation's Open Technology Initiative, a contractor for the City of Philadelphia’s Freedom Rings project.
By sharing best practices, BTOP grantees can leverage their efforts to benefit other grant recipients and the broader community going forward as we work to help close the digital divide.
Congratulations to the volunteers and workers that participated in the Freedom Rings Setup Day!