Editor’s Note: The final report from the NTIA, released today, April 13, 2015, on the broadband infrastructure game, and the benefit that broadband has on economic development.
Over the past five years through our national broadband grant program, NTIA has seen first-hand the economic and societal impact that broadband has on communities across the country. At the Broadband Communities conference in Austin, Texas this week, NTIA’s BroadbandUSA team will share our plans to leverage that expertise by providing communities with technical assistance and field-tested ideas. I will be speaking along with my NTIA colleagues Doug Kinkoph and Anne Neville.
An important component of our on-going work with communities is to build on the lessons learned from an independent evaluation of the Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP) to make sound decisions going forward. In 2010 NTIA hired ASR Analytics, LLC to conduct a comprehensive study on the societal and economic impacts of the program. In advance of the Broadband Communities conference, NTIA is today releasing the final case studies from the evaluation. The principal author of the study, Dr. Stephen Rhody, will present and discuss the findings.
The reports released today are the final ASR case studies focusing on 12 of the 109 Comprehensive Community Infrastructure (CCI) projects NTIA funded through BTOP to build middle-mile networks in 45 states and U.S. territories. These grantees deployed more than 113,000 miles of fiber across the country. In the process, they connected or upgraded 25,300 community anchor institutions and signed more than 860 interconnection agreements with local service providers.
Earlier, NTIA released ASR’s overall impact study, which found that on average, in only two years, BTOP grant communities experienced an estimated two percent greater growth in broadband availability than non-grant communities. That growth is estimated to generate increased annual economic activity of between $5.17 billion and $21 billion. The additional broadband infrastructure could also be expected to create more than 22,000 long-term jobs and generate more than $1 billion in additional household income each year. And community anchor institutions, like schools and libraries, served by BTOP infrastructure grantees in the sample experienced significantly increased speeds and lower costs.
While these numbers are impressive, the value of the projects is yet to be fully realized. Their impact will be seen in how education, health care and economic development are changing on the ground in the communities served by the grants. Students have faster, lower cost connections to broadband for online learning. Businesses are expanding their operations and markets. Medical specialists treat more people in less time, remotely.
The case studies reflect a representative sample of CCI projects, taking into account the wide diversity of grantee types, technologies, partnerships, project sizes, geography, and target customers. Project selection also considered construction schedules, so that projects could demonstrate results within the study’s time frame. To prepare the cases, ASR conducted more than a hundred interviews with grantees, partners, and network users, logging thousands of miles to visit the connected communities.
Here are just a few of the highlights.
Clearwave Communications: The Southern Illinois Online Nursing Initiative (SIONI), a part-time online nursing program that addresses the shortage of nurses in southern Illinois, can now provide more online classes through community colleges connected by Clearwave’s fiber, keeping more nurses in the region.
SDN Communications: Students at Arlington High School in South Dakota no longer encounter network congestion when using the Digital Dakota Network (DDN), which lets schools share courses. Arlington students can take foreign language classes, otherwise unavailable, during school hours rather than after school or at home. The SDN Network also offers schools speeds up to 1 Gbps, far greater than the state’s current goal of 50 Mbps per school and the 3 Mbps that Arlington had before BTOP.
Merit Network: North Country Community Mental Health (NCCMH), which serves the mental health needs of Michigan’s rural residents across the northern part of the Lower Peninsula, can now expand its telepsychiatry program, allowing psychiatrists to consult directly with primary health care providers and eliminating long drives to remote areas.
Zayo Group: Sitco, one of the largest fixed wireless Internet providers in Indiana, has leveraged Zayo’s open access network to upgrade its facilities and offer its residential and business customers significantly higher speeds without increasing prices. It also offers value-added fiber services to enterprise customers and has hired additional staff.
Massachusetts Technology Park Corporation (MTC): This state-funded agency of Massachusetts implemented an innovative public-private partnership model for its network, which connects 123 towns and over 1,200 community anchor institutions in rural western Massachusetts. MTC offers wholesale access to Internet service providers, who in turn offer retail Internet services. A commercial entity operates the network and negotiates with the retail service providers. This neutral party model has resulted in 19 signed interconnection agreements, with dozens more anticipated.
In sum, these cases reflect a myriad of individual stories to illustrate how affordable, high-speed, open access networks can foster economic development, expand education and health services, promote choice and competition, and generate tremendous cost savings.