WASHINGTON, May 30, 2014 – The president’s chief adviser on telecommunications, the head of the Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration, on Thursday heralded the first of a series of workshops designed to find ways to “build on the momentum of our successful broadband grant program” without access to federal funds.
In a blog post on the NTIA’s web site, Larry Strickling recapped the history of the Broadband Technology Opportunities Program, which tapped into more than $7 billion from the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. NTIA was responsible for administering $4 billion of those funds, and used it to support 230 projects across the country. The bulk of the funding went to build “middle-mile” networks, and which appear to have enhanced competition in the marketplace for access to broadband transport services — particularly outside of the nation’s largest cities.
Additional funds were granted to public computer centers at libraries and educational institutions, to projects designed to promote digital literacy for low-income individuals, and for state-based initiatives designed to plan, map, and coordinate state and private-sector broadband investments. Although most of the infrastructure and training grants have been spent, the State Broadband Initiative will continue just beyond the end of 2014.
So the question now is: where do we go from here? It’s a question that affects communities across the nation that are investing in broadband to ensure they have the advanced telecommunications infrastructure – and tech-savvy citizenry – needed to drive growth, attract new businesses and remain competitive in the 21st Century economy.
And it’s a question for us here at NTIA since we want to continue to partner with those communities to keep moving the needle on broadband access and adoption. NTIA has a lot of expertise to share. Working closely with our grantees, we have learned how to build high-speed networks to link even the most remote, rural communities to the Internet backbone and supply high-capacity connections to schools, libraries, hospitals and other anchor institutions that have big bandwidth needs. Together, we have learned how to set up computer labs to serve people who don’t have broadband at home and how to design effective adoption programs to teach critical digital literacy skills to people who may never have turned on a computer before. And we have learned how best to help low-income households acquire discounted computer equipment and sign up for affordable broadband access.
As we look beyond our broadband grant programs, we are exploring ways that we can share this knowledge – as well as best practices and lessons learned from across our grant portfolio – to help communities working to close the digital divide. We envision using everything from toolkits and training programs, to webinars, wikis and workshops, to provide technical assistance, networking opportunities, funding leads and basic guidance for communities going down this path.