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Launch of National Broadband Research Center Puts Focus on Adoption, Not Access

in Broadband's Impact by

WASHINGTON, November 23, 2009 – Declaring that its prior mission had been accomplished, on Thursday the Alliance for Public Technology rebranded itself as the National Broadband Research Center, a new organization charged with carrying the banner for broadband adoption.

When the Alliance for Public Technology was founded twenty years ago, its members saw themselves as leaders in the call for equal access to technology. Now, “the goal of universal access is not really new,” said Kenneth Peres, president of the board of directors, and an economist for the Communications Workers of America.

Peres said that equal access is approaching realization: among other achievements, almost 100 percent of American classrooms are now wired. The leaders of APT believe that there is now a more fundamental problem with demand. Hence the National Broadband Research Center steps in.

The NBRC mission is to “foster adoption of high-speed applications by unserved, underserved, under-resourced and under-represented communities through educating, informing and connecting them to relevant resources,” according to the center.

“If a house is getting water at right temperature and pressure, and you can’t turn on the faucet, then it’s kind of irrelevant,” said Mark Reichart of the American Foundation for the Blind, explaining the importance of adoption.

Although access in America is practically universal. In practice, however, this may mean very little for some students. Many of the schools that claim wired status do not, in fact, have the Internet available for student use. Rather, they maintain an online link only for the purpose of attendance reporting, for example.

The center has identified areas where attention should be focused in order to achieve the center’s stated goals. Education, health care, the smart grid, and technology training for the elderly were topics of high priority.

A worrying statistic highlighted the relevance of the concern about American seniors. According to Peres, by 2017 there will be more citizens over 65 years old than those under five years old. Usage among seniors group is rapidly growing, from 19 percent in 2008 to 30 percent in 2009.

This growth is leaving some uneducated and untrained users who may feel increasingly separated from the rest of the world. Potential solutions to this problem include: better tech support, educational programs, and the use of youth mentors to teach the information and help bridge generational gaps.

“The challenge facing APT with access was relatively simple,” said Peres. “The challenge we have now within NBRC is more complex because it relates directly to people’s needs, finding out what the needs of the group are that aren’t being addressed.”

“Broadband isn’t just an infrastructure, it’s the application that can transform people’s lives,” he said. “So our challenge is not just the access, which other people will carry along, it’s a challenge on an individual level.”

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