Earlier this month, I saw firsthand the benefits of our sustainable broadband adoption projects when I attended a graduation ceremony in D.C. Byte Back, a BTOP grantee partner, held a ceremony for adults who completed computer and jobs-skills training courses. At the graduation I met students who showed me how these courses are enabling them to cross the digital divide and open doors to new opportunities.
One of the graduating students was a mother who had to seek out her teenage daughter’s help in order to pass the course. Another graduate was a senior who came to the program when her computer broke. She enjoyed the courses so much that she is now a volunteer with the program, helping to teach other seniors valuable computer skills that can help them stay informed and connected. Several others were already finding ways to put their new skills to work and had lined up job opportunities.
We know that computer skills are increasingly important for success in today’s digital economy, and investments in training are addressing a very real need: nearly 80 percent of that graduating class were unemployed when they began training, and forty percent of that class were living in temporary or transitory housing situations. Many of the students, already in difficult situations, had to venture out of their comfort zone to tackle the challenging coursework. But now, armed with new skills, there is more hope for these graduates. If they follow the trend of classes from the year before – according to Byte Back -- every $100 invested in training unemployed students who are seeking work will result in a $1082 increase in student earnings. Byte Back says half of the program’s unemployed job training graduates found employment last year.
As part of BTOP’s comprehensive oversight of its grant recipients, I recently spent several days in North Carolina conducting an on-site review of two broadband infrastructure projects.
Local broadband provider MCNC received two BTOP grants that together will fund deployment of more than 2,000 miles of new fiber infrastructure. The new infrastructure will reach 69 counties and directly connect more than 500 community anchor institutions across the state, including universities, hospitals, and public safety facilities. To date, MCNC has deployed more than 140 miles of conduit, with plans to begin running fiber-optic cable through the conduit in the coming weeks.
During my visit, I examined MCNC’s project management approach, project status, grants management procedures, financial practices and controls, and compliance with BTOP and Recovery Act program requirements. My review included a productive series of meetings with MCNC that after two days of rolling up our sleeves yielded a better understanding of our shared objectives and the challenges associated with deploying and managing statewide projects.
At an event in Washington, D.C. yesterday, National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) Administrator Lawrence E. Strickling described the progress of broadband stimulus projects, noting that Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP) grantees have thus far installed more than 4,000 computers for public use and provided computer training to more than 65,000 people.
“These Recovery Act projects are already providing an essential link to economic and educational opportunities for thousands of Americans,” said Strickling.
Strickling said that BTOP grantees deploying infrastructure projects have already entered into approximately 90 interconnection agreements with other Internet service providers, which will enable these additional providers to connect to the new infrastructure in order to more affordably expand their own broadband service to local homes and small businesses.
“BTOP’s ‘open’ networks allow us to maximize the impact of Recovery Act dollars and spur additional private sector investment,” he said.
Speaking at an event hosted by the Schools, Health and Libraries Broadband Coalition, Strickling cited data in NTIA’s recently launched National Broadband Map showing that most community anchor institutions, such as schools and libraries, do not have broadband service at fast enough speeds.
“These findings validate BTOP’s focus on addressing the broadband needs of community anchor institutions so that they can harness the power of broadband to improve education, health care, and public safety.”
Strickling also told the audience, comprised largely of BTOP grantees, of the agency’s vigorous oversight plans, including site visits, to ensure BTOP projects “are completed on time, within budget, and deliver the promised benefits to the communities they serve.”
Starting this week, federal program staff from the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) will begin post-award site visits to get a first-hand perspective on project progress and oversee grant recipients of the Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP), a portfolio that approaches $4 billion in federal infrastructure investments. As a core component of the Program’s comprehensive monitoring strategy, these comprehensive visits will allow us to evaluate grant recipients' performance in meeting milestones and complying with grant terms and conditions.
NTIA uses a variety of tools to monitor grantee progress, including regular conference calls, detailed review of quarterly reports, and careful tracking of the expenditure of federal funds. Site visits are a critically important tool to corroborate information provided in written reports and to inspect equipment paid for by the federal government.
Our program staff will be digging deeper on the site visits and, like any good stewards of funds, will be focusing on the core areas of program performance:
(1) Project management - Is the project on time and meeting milestones?
(2) Financial management - Is the project on budget?
(3) Grants management - Are grant recipients and subrecipients meeting all relevant federal requirements?
At the conclusion of each site visit, NTIA will follow up with grantees to discuss any areas of concern and map out next steps including whatever customized technical assistance may be appropriate to keep projects on track. As necessary, we may also describe corrective actions to be taken by the recipient based on observations and conclusions drawn from the site visit.
NTIA takes its oversight responsibilities very seriously and will work closely with our grant recipients to ensure these critical investments bring benefits to the American people.
Today we launched the first-ever public, searchable nationwide map of broadband access.
The National Broadband Map is an unprecedented project created by NTIA, in collaboration with the FCC, and in partnership with each state, territory and the District of Columbia. The map was created at the direction of Congress, which recognized that economic opportunities are driven by access to 21st century infrastructure.
With funding from NTIA’s State Broadband Data & Development Program, state partners have gathered and worked to validate broadband data from thousands of providers across the country. Together, a dataset and website were developed that includes more than 25 million searchable records displaying where broadband Internet service is available, the technology used to provide the service, the maximum advertised speeds of the service, and the names of the broadband providers. Whether you are a consumer seeking more information on the broadband options available to you, a researcher or policymaker working to spur greater broadband deployment, a local official aiming to attract investment in your community, or an application developer with innovative ideas, the National Broadband Map can help. And if you don’t find the answer you’re looking for on the map itself, you can download the entire dataset.
While the launch of this map is a huge accomplishment, today is just the beginning. Our partners in the states are working to expand and update this important dataset, and we will update the map with new data every six months. In the meantime, you can help. Each time you search the map, you have the opportunity to tell us about the data you’re seeing. This crowdsourced feedback will be an important tool to improve and refine the data.
On Wednesday I spoke at a League of United Latin American Citizens conference about how BTOP is expanding broadband access and adoption in the Latino community. Though it’s been roughly 15 years since the “digital divide” gained national attention, the issue remains a serious one for Latinos. In fact, NTIA’s Digital Nation Report shows that even after adjusting for income and other socioeconomic characteristics, Latino households lag White households in broadband adoption by 14 percentage points.
This issue is growing in importance as computer skills and high-speed Internet access are increasingly vital to full economic and civic participation in American society. In terms of employment, for example, a recent study shows that between 1998 and 2008, the number of domestic IT jobs grew by 26 percent, four times faster than U.S. employment as a whole. By 2018, IT employment is expected to grow by another 22 percent.
LULAC is on the front lines of addressing the Latino broadband gap through its network of technology centers and its partnership with BTOP grantee One Economy, which is conducting a comprehensive digital literacy program in 50 cities and towns. LULAC is helping One Economy bring its Digital Connectors program to Latino communities in need, providing technology training for students who will in turn serve as community ambassadors of broadband opportunities.
Other BTOP grantees with projects targeted to the Latino community include:
In 2010, I helped to lead three Michigan State University projects that received BTOP broadband stimulus awards to increase computer access and broadband access throughout Michigan. These three projects will expand broadband access in library computer centers in rural areas, create additional public computer centers in Michigan’s core urban areas, and stimulate broadband adoption by expanding knowledge and access to broadband in urban areas of Michigan. Now more than ever, our state needs to focus on its economic growth. These projects are providing that positive change, and helping transform our state to participate in the information economy.
These projects have provided amazing opportunities for me as a researcher, but also for our students and most importantly, for the residents of Michigan who will have increased technology at their fingertips. For example, as the State News reported, this funding has allowed us to directly help Michigan libraries and to help match unemployed residents with available jobs. In a state that has been among the hardest hit nationwide, this is an important tool as we work to rebuild rapidly. As a land-grant pioneer, MSU’s work is vital in that rebuilding effort. In the past few months, we have installed computers in 15 underserved counties of our state.
The rapid growth of the Internet economy has provided educational, economic, and social benefits to consumers and businesses. But with these growing benefits comes growing unease about how consumer's personal information on the Internet is collected, used, and protected.
Preserving consumer trust is essential to the sustainability and continued growth of the Internet economy. Data privacy day provides an opportunity to reflect on the importance of privacy policies that promote online trust and broadband use.
Whether making purchases online, communicating with family members, or conducting business - consumers must know that they have control over their personal information. As innovative new applications and services are developed, it is important that users know that their information is safe and that providers have clear rules about how to respect individual privacy.
As more and more personal data is collected on the Internet, policy makers need to ensure the consumer trust that is an essential foundation of the digital economy and broadband use.
The Commerce Department's Internet Policy Task Force, in which NTIA plays a leading role, released a privacy "green paper" in December. The report proposes an approach to privacy that can promote innovation while increasing consumer trust, including committing to baseline privacy principles and convening stakeholders to craft enforceable codes of conduct to implement those principles. Those codes of conduct would then be adopted as binding commitments by companies to be legally enforced by the Federal Trade Commission.
Freedom Rings Partnership Helps to Close Digital Divide
Guest post by Arun Prabhakaran and Mary-Anne Smith Harris of the Urban Affairs Coalition
The Freedom Rings Partnership officially kicked off on January 17th, by sponsoring the signature project of the Greater Philadelphia Martin Luther King Day of Service – volunteers refurbished used computers to be distributed to the community, assembled digital literacy kits, and participated in a high-tech scavenger hunt called “Race to Connect.” Tom Power, NTIA Chief of Staff, joined Sharmain Matlock-Turner, President and CEO of the Urban Affairs Coalition (UAC); John Fry, President of Drexel University; and Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter for this exciting event hosted at Girard College.
The Freedom Rings Partnership, led by UAC and the City of Philadelphia, with Drexel University as a major partner, is made up of grassroots organizations, government, and universities that are working to bring Internet access, jobs-training, and technology to Philadelphia residents in low-income communities. This initiative is a synergy between two BTOP Round 2 grants: UAC’s $11.8 million Sustainable Broadband Adoption project and the City of Philadelphia’s $6.4 million Public Computer Center project. Together, these two initiatives are known as the Freedom Rings Partnership, bringing over $25 million in federal and matching dollars to bridge the digital divide in Philadelphia.
NTIA Chief of Staff Tom Power refurbishes a computer for the Freedom Rings project with the help of Philadelphia youths
700-MHz Demonstration Stakeholder Meeting in Boulder
Earlier this month, representatives from each of the seven BTOP 700 MHz wireless broadband public safety projects spent time at the Department of Commerce Research Labs in Boulder learning about the most recent developments in LTE wireless broadband technology.
Approximately 300 stakeholders, who were interested in the new wireless broadband technology and how this commercial technology could be adapted by public safety using the 700 MHz broadband spectrum, attended the meeting. Attendees included representatives from state, local, and federal government agencies, equipment manufacturers, cellular service providers, and other stakeholder associations. It was one of the largest events ever held at the Boulder campus and included opening remarks by Department of Homeland Security Assistant Secretary Greg Schaffer and NTIA Deputy Administrator Anna Gomez.
This event was sponsored by the Public Safety Communications Research (PSCR) program, a government-sponsored program that performs research to advance public safety communications interoperability. PSCR is a joint effort between the National Institute of Standards and Technology’s Office of Law Enforcement Standards and NTIA’s Institute for Telecommunication Sciences. The PSCR program is building a 700-MHz Public Safety Broadband Demonstration Network to provide manufacturers and first responders a location for early deployment of their public safety systems in a multi-vendor, neutral, host environment.