WASHINGTON, February 5, 2010 – The Commerce Department on Friday announced two additional broadband stimulus funding grants: $5.9 million to the South Carolina Technical College System, and $1.2 million to a consortium of Rhode Island’s 71 public libraries.
Both grants were made under the portion of funds — $50 million in the first round of the Broadband Technology Opportunities Program — earmarked by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration for public computing centers.
“Thanks to this funding, public computer centers and computer labs throughout the state of South Carolina will be able to serve more than twice the current number of users,” Commerce Secretary Gary Locke said in a statement.
“This means easier access to educational resources, jobs databases, and job skill workshops. Having access to the Internet’s economic, health and educational benefits should be as much of a fundamental American right as attending a quality school or feeling safe when you walk down the street,” said Locke.
The award was also praised by House Majority Whip James Clyburn, D-S.C., and Rep. John Spratt, D-S.C.
In Rhode Island, the grant went to OSHEAN Inc., a consortium of non-profit organizations, which will use the funding to replace 327 existing computers and add more than 400 new workstations in state libraries.
The funding, said NTIA, is expected to allow the libraries to serve more than 6,900 additional users per week.
“Access to high-speed Internet is critical for students, job-seekers and entrepreneurs,” said Lawrence Strickling, Assistant Secretary of Commerce and Administrator of NTIA. “By expanding the capacity for free access and training at local libraries, this grant will open up more opportunities for Rhode Islanders to participate in distance learning, online training and other online applications.”
Rhode Island’s Democratic Sens. Jack Reed and Sheldon Whitehouse praised the award, as did Rep. Patrick Kennedy, D-R.I.
In South Carolina, the NTIA awarded the South Carolina State Board for Technical and Comprehensive Education to uses its S.C. “Reach for Success” project to expand the capacity of 51 public computer centers and create 19 new computer labs within the system’s 16 member colleges.
The college system is the state’s largest higher education system, with 114,000 degree-seeking students and 128,000 continuing education students. Of these students, almost half receive federal Pell Grant assistance and 37 percent are minorities, said the NTIA.
“Thanks to the Recovery Act, South Carolina is receiving much needed funds to expand broadband access in rural and underserved communities that desperately need it,” said Clyburn. “This expanded access allows these communities to take critical steps forward to improve their health, education and economy.”
In a press release, NTIA said that the project would open these community college computer centers to the general public for the first time and plans to nearly double the number of workstations available by purchasing 2,028 new computers, 596 of which will replace outdated models. The expanded capacity will accommodate an increase in users per week from 17,000 to 38,000.
Previously, the University of Massachusetts at Lowell won a broadband adoption grant of $780,000 to connect Cambodian immigrants and seniors to broadband facilities in Lowell and Merrimack Valley; and Michigan State University won $895,000 in a public computing center grant.