WASHINGTON March 22, 2011-The National Telecommunications Cooperative Association, a rural telecommunications association, kicked off its Legislative and Policy Conference Monday with a speech by National Telecommunications and Information Administration Administrator Lawrence Strickling.
Strickling provided the audience with an update on the Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP). He said that the goal of BTOP in rural America was not last-mile connectivity but rather building middle-mile networks and connecting anchor institutions.
“Before dispersing grants, we talked with our counterparts at the Rural Utility Service to determine how best we could use our resources. We felt that RUS was better suited to handle the last mile while [NTIA] should focus on more community based projects.” Strickling said.
The middle-mile projects that NTIA has funded have already begun gaining attention from last-mile providers. Strickling stated that in the fall, middle-mile projects and last-mile providers had signed 90 agreements; currently, more than 200 agreements are being negotiated. The Middle mile is the segment of the network between the backbone and the connection reaches homes which is the last mile.
“By mandating our middle-mile networks be open, it allows anyone to connect to the network and benefit from access to fiber [optic networks],” Strickling said.
He then went onto deliver an overview of the recently launched national broadband map. The map has received nearly half a million unique visitors and contains over 25 million pieces of data. Though the NTIA only launched the map earlier this month, the agency has already begun work on an update that it expects to roll out in late August. Strickling said that the map will be updated twice a year to improve accuracy and include newly-acquired data.
During the question-and-answer period, two audience members confronted Strickling, claiming that the map was inaccurate.
“While the map doesn’t include every single provider, we have been contacted by a number of Internet Service Providers (ISPs) who initially would not provide information, but are now willing to provide data.” Strickling responded. “Also the data we obtained is coming directly from the ISPs and many of them don’t have data down to the household level so our map is only as good as the data we are given.”
He encouraged the crowd to contact their state mapping entity and the NTIA with any inaccuracies.
Strickling also spoke about the importance of growing broadband adoption. The NTIA found in their most recent Digital Nation report that accounting for the lack of access, the main reason why people do not adopt broadband is that they feel that they do not need it. Many others lack the digital literacy skills to make constructive use of broadband, a problem the NTIA hopes to address by expanding its digital literacy efforts.
“We’ve found that digital literacy is a major limiting factor for the adoption of broadband. We don’t just want to teach people how to use the internet, but train them in skills,” Strickling said, “We are integrating job training into our digital literacy workshops to provide people with marketable skills.”