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Wattsburg Overjoyed With Biden Visit; May Already Be Ahead in School Broadband Access

in NTIA/Recovery Act by

WATTSBURG, Penn., July 1, 2009 – Wattsburg citizens were overjoyed with Vice President Joe Biden and company’s Rural Broadband Tour. But the town may also serve as a benchmark for public broadband access.

During the “town hall” portion of the tour, Vice President Biden said that individuals told him that only roughly 50 percent of homes in the district had broadband access. But Robert LaPlaca, information technology director of the district’s system, says that Wattsburg school systems lead the way with the Internet 2 super-high-speed network connecting university and school systems.

Classrooms for the Future coach and technology integrator Mary Beth Bengelbrok agreed with LaPlaca that although only 50 percent of students may have internet access at home. They considered that a “great majority of student population are unable to access internet tools” and with broadband access they might have “more fruitful” educational opportunities at school and beyond.

Internet2 capabilities allow for some of the fastest fiber-optic broadband used for research at educational, healthcare, and governmental establishments, said LaPlaca. There are more than “55 school districts that already have Internet2 interconnections.”

According to LaPlaca, the district has had fiber-optic connection for six to seven years, from Sting Communication, who won the $5.4 million bid that had been granted to the school system. An additional $10 million was raised by the school district to furbish the resulting infrastructure network.

On the first day of her new job, Wattsburg schools Superintendent Nancy Salady was “honored and privileged” to have the tour with Biden and the nation’s other leaders come to her town. Salady said she saw it as an opportunity to “integrate more technology” to equip students with what Biden and other government representatives are calling “21st century skills.”

The audience responded well to Biden’s joviality. Local citizen Theol Isaacs was overjoyed as it was “the best thing that ever happened to me.”

“It shows that he is looking to make straight changes, but it’s going to take time,” Isaacs said. Asserting himself as an Internet user, Isaacs said that “we still got a ways to go” though Wattsburg seems to be doing “OK.”

With what seemed to be a tour creating broadband demand and education as much as anything, local citizens responded and involved themselves well to Biden’s “farmers are the smartest people I know” with an occasional “amen” from apparent farmers and rural citizens.

The Vice President’s anecdotal stories resounded well to a community that is seemingly on track to ubiquitous broadband. According to Hengelbrock, “last fall we did a program and community outreach” in line with Biden’s “public service center” requests as a part of the “National Broadband Plan.”

Hengelbrock says the program is in part something that the district must perform yearly in order to qualify for e-Rate benefits. Incentives of this sort that increase demand in rural areas might be what the new administration is looking for to expand broadband knowledge and need.

When asked if the district plans on issuing a grant application, LaPlasca said the school system already has what it needs.

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