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Getting Started on an NTIA Broadband Stimulus Application

in Broadband Stimulus/Expert Opinion/NTIA by

Editor’s Note: The following guest commentary appears by special invitation of BroadbandCensus.com. BroadbandCensus.com does not necessary endorse the views in the commentary, but invites officials, experts and individuals interested in the state of broadband to offer commentaries of their own. To offer a commentary, please e-mail commentary@broadbandcensus.com. Not all commentaries may be published.

The staff of BroadbandCensus.com has produced a four-page report on the essentials of the Broadband Initiative Program-Broadband Technology Opportunities Program Notice of Funds Availability, which is available for purchase for $25.00, at http://broadbandcensus.com/special-reports.

By Don Samuelson, Guest Commentary, BroadbandCensus.com

LAKE FOREST, Ill., August 10, 2009 – Here’s a step by step guide to completing an National Telecommunications and Information Administration application in a bid to receive money for broadband projects.

The deadline for the first round of NTIA broadband submissions is August 14.  The first step is going to Broadband USA and clicking on the application link: http://broadbandusa.sc.egov.usda.gov/download_app.htm

You’ll find 47 topics, many of them essentially administrative.  However, the guts of the application will consist of one or two page narratives in the following areas:

  • Project Proposal: Problem, Solution and Outcomes
  • Project Benefits and Innovation: New Subscribers/Cost Per Subscriber
  • Awareness Campaign: Identifying and Capturing the Market
  • Impact Evaluation: What Real Differences Have Been Made
  • Technical Strategy and Organizational Capacity
  • Project Timeline and Challenges
  • The Budget and Budget Narrative

The evaluation scoring will be: Project Purpose (30%), Project Benefits (25%), Project Viability (25%) and Project Budget and Sustainability (20%).  The purpose of this short paper is to help Public Housing Authorities get started in thinking how they might develop a winning proposal that advances overall agency objectives.

Project Purpose

NTIA’s objective in providing adoption grants is to move vulnerable populations across the digital divide, to create new – and permanent – users of the Internet.  The assumption is that once public and Housing and Urban Development housing families and seniors experience the benefits of broadband and the Internet they will be motivated to be self-sufficient and shoulder more of the burden of their own well-being.  Costs can be reduced.  Access to services can be increased.  The overall quality of life will be improved.

An applicant will have to paint a “before” and “after” scenario.  Here is a description of the current status of computers, Internet access and use/adoption in the individual units.   The assumption is that the percentages will be very low.  Here is the intervention strategy to promote greater interest and use.  These are the projections of use adoption and use at the end of the intervention.  The percentages should be high. This data can be collected by surveys and performance updates.

But a key word is “sustainable.”  The use and adoption must continue.  Equally important, the use has to be paid for.  The major problem with the Housing and Urban Development Neighborhood Networks program was that while more than a thousand computer training centers were created under the program, there was no permanent funding to pay for program needs: instruction, maintenance, broadband connectivity and software and hardware upgrades.

It would be smart to think of this new program in terms of teaching residents to fish rather than being a permanent source of fish.  The use by seniors of the CTC in the building should be an initial step on the path to a permanent life on the Internet.  In two years the CTC can be shut down, all of the seniors will have computers and Internet in their units and a sustainable adoption will have been achieved.

Innovation

The innovation in the proposal is in using the on-site CTC as a collection point and launching pad, not as a permanent function.  It may well be that new applications and group discussions can take place in the CTC.  But the residents will have crossed the digital divide and the collaborations and life-long learning efforts of the future can take place in the individual units and not in the CTC.

The future I’ve postulated will need computers and Internet connections for all residents, not just for the limited number of devices in the CTC, connected by a wireless Local Area Network.  Where will they come from?  Ideally, the computers in the units should be refurbished computers and “thin clients.” The advantage of thin clients (or refurbished computers converted to think clients) is that they are inexpensive to buy and inexpensive to maintain. There are not many things to go wrong.  It can be a “plug and play” device. Donated and refurbished computers can count as the local “match” at NTIA.  The NTIA grant can fully subsidize Internet connections for a year, and at a 50 percent rate the second year.  The initial computers/thin clients can be paid for by NTIA.  The “sustainability” can be achieved by having residents fully pay for their Internet connection in year three along with upgrades, new computers and peripherals. The goal of the program is not to support on-site CTCs. The goal of the program is to use on-site CTCs for marketing the benefits of broadband and the Internet, and to prompt residents to cross the digital divide.

The Awareness Campaign

A short one-page survey should be the first step in the awareness campaign.  The survey should be oriented to current conditions (computer, dial-up or broadband Internet access, etc.), the current interests of the residents and their thoughts on how they intend to use broadband access.  The results of the survey will inform the basis for small focus-group meetings, to identify local Internet advocates/leaders and to build an outreach corps.  Inviting residents to illustrate their Internet activities on an electronic white board before larger groups of residents could demonstrate practical uses by peers.  It would be helpful to send e-mail to the children, grandchildren and friends of the residents to explain the Internet adoption program and to request support.  Once relevant content is developed and accessible over the Internet, a Web site can be developed to promote communications and collaborations among residents, and can provide access to the program to seniors on the building waiting list, and neighborhood seniors.

Impact Evaluation

Progress can be tracked throughout the entire two year program.  The survey will provide the base-line information.  Periodic interim reports can be generated related to: (1) filling out the survey; (2) participation in focus groups; (3) attendance at training sessions; and (4) the successful completion of training modules — not unlike the various progressions in Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts.  But thc key measurements will relate to the acquisition and use of a free computer and Internet access in the unit. Even more important will be the percentage of residents who will pay for Internet connectivity after the subsidy period is ended and the residents who will pay themselves for connectivity, hardware upgrades and software.  Other important measurements will relate to the uses made of the Internet connection and the amount of time spent on the Internet.

Technical Strategy

The on-site CTC should function like a 21st century classroom, with desktop terminals, a teacher’s station, an electronic whiteboard, a broadband connection and electronic curricula.  The CTC should have a color printer and other peripherals essential to the educational/training functions of the CTC.  It would be helpful to have webcasting capability in the CTC so that instructional programs. panel discussions and illustrations of resident work could be “broadcast” throughout the building creating virtual meetings for all of the building residents.  The all-building virtual meeting developed for Internet/computer training purposes can be used for many other uses as well.

How do we find affordable computers or thin clients for all of the building residents? First, the free refurnished computers or thin clients are “awarded” to residents who complete successfully a training course in the CTC.  So they are rolled out over a period of time.  Second, there is a ready pool of discarded computers everywhere in the United States – at least for the time being – resulting from the upgrading of personal computers in corporations, law and accounting firms and government.  The refurbishing process is relatively simple, easily done by middle and high-school students with little oversight.

The question remains how the broadband connectivity is distributed throughout the building – normally by a combination of hardwiring to the heavy Internet users (management office, CTC, maintenance office, etc.) on the main floor and wireless distributions throughout the building. This solution will have to be developed out of the specific circumstances of each location and the overall needs of the adoption program.

Project Timeline

Assuming that grant is awarded on October 1 and all of the detailed planning is done after you have survived the first cut, the first step will be surveys, focus groups and the “pre-selling” of the program. The second step will involve the preparation of the training curriculum, the program website and the recruitment of the site director.  A good start on this can be done before the actual award is made.  The whole system should be operational by the holidays and the first two four-week training program should have been completed.   The whole program can be completed in 2010. The whole program is three months of planning, three months of start-up and a year of operation.

Project Challenges

The biggest challenge will be to plan and implement the outreach in terms of generating benefits that are practical value to seniors, and to gently overcome the natural resistance to try something new.   This will have to be a fun learning experience, not unlike races for little kids, where everyone can feel good about their progress because it is advancing them along a path they have concluded will have value. The second challenge will be to find a program manager/instructor who has the collection of diverse training skills that can make this program happen.  The third challenge is to find a local source of refurbished computers that can fit the PC or thin client needs of the program in sufficient numbers to provide a computer for every resident. The fourth challenge is to identify affordable broadband connections for the residents. The fifth challenge is to find, review and arrange for on-line curricula that is responsive to the interests of residents that can provide a core “package” of applications that meet the interests and needs of seniors.

The Budget and Budget Narrative – Program Eligible and Matching Costs

There are certain eligible program costs that can be paid for by the NTIA grant. In general, they related to computers, furniture, equipment, training, connectivity and maintenance. They are costs directly related to the development of the adoption program.  The cost of space would normally not be covered unless it was to be devoted exclusively to the function of the CTC.  Once a cost has been determined to be “eligible,” 80 percent of the program costs can be paid for by the NTIA grant, and 20 percent needs to be covered by separate matching funds.  The Budget Narrative needs to document and explain each cost element with respect to hourly rates, unit costs, projected quantities and the reasonableness of the projected cost.  The budget needs to tie in to the overall program.

Donald S. Samuelson has more than 30 years of experience in government-assisted housing and real estate development. He has a passion for applying broadband to provide solutions in the fields of education and training. E-mail him at DSSA310@aol.com, or contact him by phone at 847-420-1732.

Promoting the Use of the Internet by Seniors in Public Housing

in Broadband Stimulus/Expert Opinion/NTIA by

Editor’s Note: The following guest commentary appears by special invitation of BroadbandCensus.com. BroadbandCensus.com does not necessary endorse the views in the commentary, but invites officials, experts and individuals interested in the state of broadband to offer commentaries of their own. To offer a commentary, please e-mail commentary@broadbandcensus.com. Not all commentaries may be published.

The staff of BroadbandCensus.com has produced a four-page report on the essentials of the Broadband Initiative Program-Broadband Technology Opportunities Program Notice of Funds Availability, which is available for purchase for $25.00, at http://broadbandcensus.com/special-reports.

By Don Samuelson, Guest Commentary, BroadbandCensus.com

LAKE FOREST, Ill., July 26, 2009 – Every public housing authority in the United States should apply for stimulus funding from the National Telecommunications and Information Administration to set up a program to promote the benefits and use of the Internet for its senior housing residents. The goal should be to make the case for the practical benefits of broadband and the Internet sufficiently compelling so that seniors would want a computer and internet connection in their individual units. The use of the Internet should be as valuable as a TV or a phone. This is a “value proposition” that remains to be made.

Accessing the Broadband Technology Opportunities Program for the Senior Market

Two of the statutory purposes of BTOP are to provide broadband education, awareness, training, access, equipment and support to vulnerable populations (e.g. residents of public housing), and to stimulate demand for broadband. An overview of “Sustainable Broadband Adoption” and the actual application can be found at: http://broadbandusa.sc.egov.usda.gov/presentations/SustainableAdoption.pdf and
http://broadbandusa.sc.egov.usda.gov/download_app.htm.

While there are 47 elements in the application, the key information to be provided involves 20 pages of unique project narrative covering: executive summary (2 pages), project purpose (2 pages), innovative approach (1 page), number and qualifications of instructors (1 page), awareness campaign (2 pages), impact evaluation (1 page), technical strategy (2 pages), management team resumes (1 page per person), organizational readiness (1 page), project timeline and challenges (2 pages), budget narrative (2 pages) and budget reasonableness (1 page). Further guidance on these topics can be found at “Grant Guidelines” for BTOP: www.broadbandusa.gov in Section C: Sustainable Adoption at pages 88 to 114.

The basic objective of “sustainable adoption” for public housing authorities is to increase the number of public housing residents using broadband and the Internet and to increase their use of the Internet on a sustained basis. The most obvious market to be served are the seniors currently living in public housing buildings. The core “market” could be easily extended to include seniors with vouchers, seniors on the waiting list, seniors using local senior centers, and seniors living in the census tracts where the senior building is located.

Since the purpose of the BTOP program is to increase the adoption and use by seniors of the Internet, a baseline will have to be established for the target markets. Demographic information is required in the application. There needs to be additional information collected – on an individual basis – on the current capacities of residents to use computers and the Internet. Do residents have an e-mail address? Do they have an internet connection? Do they have a personal computer? How are they currently using their internet connection? A base line of fluency and interests can be easily established, through a survey form. Good market research should be the start of program outreach.

The Determination of Customer Interest

Seniors are going to have to see practical value – to them – through the use of the Internet in order for them to get involved in a serious way. I’ve found that interest can be best generated by determining the current interests of seniors. How do they spend their time now? What are their interests? What are their problems? Are there ways that their current activities and interests can be enhanced through broadband and the Internet?

The goal is to demonstrate how current activities and interests can be made easier, faster and less costly through the use of the Internet. I’ve developed a formula for this: Buyer Satisfaction is a Function of Perceived Value times Frequency of Use.

In the senior computer learning centers I’ve operated in the past, the “hot buttons” of interest to seniors have been: (1) easier connections with children, grandchildren and the extended family; (2) online access to government resources and services; (3) online healthcare information and contacts; (4) social networking in areas of common interests; (5) the development of new skill, e.g. learning to type; online education/training; and (6) games and hobbies. The way to start is with one-on-one conversations to find out the interests of Senior A, and then consider how those interests could be advanced by the Internet. Then go through the same process with seniors B through Z. At the end of 26 interviews – easily done within a week – there would be a comprehensive collection of resident interests that could become the foundation for the Internet instructional programs. The skills to be developed would already be known to have relevance.

The Elements of the Building Learning Network and Conducting Outreach

The physical network to be developed will consist of a Computer Training Center, computing devices in the individual living units and internet connections to instructional materials, applications and storage. In the CTC there will be: (1) an internet connection; (2) an instructor’s station; (3) desktop devices, such as personal computers, refurbished PCs, or “thin clients.” The benefits of thin clients are related to initial purchasing costs, reduced maintenance costs and the simplicity of upgrading and adding software.

The CTC will have an electronic whiteboard, so that teaching/learning can be provided to an larger-sized audience of 24 to 30 people, than the four to eight that can actually sit in front of a computer in the center. The most important part of the network will be the devices with internet connections so that individual seniors can have continual access to broadband and the Internet, with the on-site CTC performing the functions of initial training and instruction in special applications. The bulk of the work will take place in the individual unit when seniors have concluded that the benefits of the Internet and broadband are increasingly indispensable to their needs and interests.

Initially, communications concerning internet benefits will be accomplished by flyers, white-board presentations, small group meetings and word-of-mouth. As more residents get on-line and as case-examples and testimonials are developed, an increasing amount of outreach can take place on-line, with enthusiastic support from children, grandchildren and friends who are thrilled to have mom or grandma online.

After initial steps are taken, the seniors can be directed to two four-week courses that
create a foundation for computer and internet literacy. The objective is to teach and certify the basics resulting in a “driver’s license” to navigate the information superhighway. The goal of the training is to develop the skills so that seniors can further their individual interests that prompted them to participate in the program in the first place. The first form of training is formal classroom instruction using the white board and computers. The second would involve open lab time with advanced seniors helping their colleagues. The third will take place in the individual units when the senior accepts the values of the computer, broadband and the Internet.

Some Thoughts on Infrastructure and Costs

The broadband connection to the building can be made to a local area network in the computer center, and through a combination of Ethernet and wireless connections throughout the building. Substantial savings in equipment acquisition and maintenance can be realized if “thin clients” are used in both the computer training center and in the individual units. The storage, computational power and software applications could be hosted in internet-accessible servers on-site or through a “cloud computing” system. The objective is to make access to the instructional tools and software applications available anywhere there is an internet browser connection – at any time and any place.

All of these considerations have to be developed into the technical plan outlined in the BTOP application. All of the specifications and program costs for hardware, software, connectivity and instruction have to be set out in the program budget and explained in detail in a budget narrative.

The goal of the BTOP sustainable adoption program is to make the value proposition sufficiently compelling that seniors will move from building-supported training to an internet-connected device in their units that are central to their lives.

Donald S. Samuelson has more than 30 years of experience in government-assisted housing and real estate development. He has a passion for applying broadband to provide solutions in the fields of education and training. E-mail him at DSSA310@aol.com, or contact him by phone at 847-420-1732.

Connecting Broadband Networks and Applications in NTIA Proposals

in Broadband Stimulus/Expert Opinion/NTIA by

Editor’s Note: The following guest commentary appears by special invitation of BroadbandCensus.com. BroadbandCensus.com does not necessary endorse the views in the commentary, but invites officials, experts and individuals interested in the state of broadband to offer commentaries of their own. To offer a commentary, please e-mail commentary@broadbandcensus.com. Not all commentaries may be published.

By Don Samuelson, Guest Commentary, BroadbandCensus.com

LAKE FOREST, Ill., July 19, 2009 – There were three major messages from the TV Worldwide-BroadbandCensus.com webcast and discussion with NTIA Deputy Associate Administrator Anthony (“Tony”) Wilhelm on Thursday, July 9, 2009.

First, the overall design of the grant program seems to track the design of the old NTIA Technology Opportunities Program, which is not surprising given the able involvement of Tony Wilhelm in both.

Second, there is going to be maximum awards for those applications which attempt to solve multiple policy objectives, on the “biggest bang for the stimulus buck” theory.

Third, the states are going to be influential in the evaluation system, to the extent that their prioritization efforts are transparent and fair.

It would be useful for the folks who have been tracking the NTIA and Rural Utilities Service stimulus efforts as “network-promoting” funding programs to put real energy into populating the network applications with practical application and adoption strategies. Exactly what is the real-world payoff that is going to come from the network deployment?

I don’t sense that the “build it and they will come” argument is going to pass muster. The identification of the “positive externalities” of the network deployment are going to have to be addressed upfront in a clear and logical manner. And that will not be easy.

Broadband and Public Housing

But let me suggest a couple of examples on how this might work, starting with the technology-starved industry of public housing. Most public housing developments spend tremendous amounts of money – inefficiently – on security and energy.

Money spent on “more guards” and “more armed guards” could achieve much better security results at much less cost with tenant recognition and electronic surveillance systems. Energy control and systems monitoring efforts could be more efficient through the “sensing” and control devices made possible by broadband. Work orders could be filled faster and with better quality control through interactive systems.

While there are tremendous cost savings achievable in public housing through the creative uses of broadband, the bigger payback will come from converting “warehouses for the poor” to self-sufficiency-oriented support systems.

The same broadband network that creates savings in the operating costs of a building can connect all of the units – and low income families – to the benefits of the Internet. This can take place through the development of on-site computer learning centers for technology skills assessment and training, refurbished computers or thin clients in the individual unit and a concentrated effort to promote internet adoption and use.

There are thousands of public housing authorities in the United States, in big urban cities and in relatively small rural towns. While the program problems in big cities and rural towns are different, they share a common deficiency in their use of technology and the Internet.

There is relatively little in internet training for seniors or for workforce development, self-sufficiency and remedial education programs for very low income families. NTIA applications demonstrating collaboration between the local housing authority and the network to develop and maintain practical adoption programs would warrant extra credit in the competition, particularly if the application could show how the proposed collaboration could be replicated in housing authorities across the country.

Broadband and Education

The connection of network applications to public education should be a clear winning strategy. It’s clear that the use of technology platforms in education can generate significant improvements in student engagement and performance. It seems self-evident but hard to quantify. In large part, the evaluation difficulty relates to the problem of the identification and quantification of dependent and independent variables.

Exactly what is the cause of the troubling educational outcomes: too little time spent in the classroom, the lack of parent involvement, insufficient effort by students, the lack of teacher skills with computer-aided education, the general problems of distressed communities leaking into the classroom? It is clearly all of these.

So what are the contributions broadband can make to these seemingly intractable difficulties? Project RED is a research effort funded by Intel and Apple to assess the impact of technology investments in 3,000 technology rich United States school districts. E-mail info@projectRED.org for more information. It will involve interviews with 3,000 schools with rich technology available to all students.

The report on these interviews will involve: (1) the actual uses of technology for administrative and educational purposes; (2) the uses of technology by type of application; and (3) the cost savings attributable to technology.

These research efforts are intended to document and to promote understanding of the practical benefits of “21st Century Schools” and “21st Century Classrooms.” The basic components of these 21st Century Classrooms will involve: (1) portable furniture; (2) internet-access devices on every learning surface; (3) a central information control system available to the teacher (i.e. facilitator of learning); (4) an internet-connected large screen “white board” with multi-media capacities; (5) on-line curriculum; (6) technology-fluent teachers – general contractor facilitators of learning; (7) simple-to-use and maintenance free equipment.

There were 500 exhibitors at the recent National Education Computing Conference in Washington, from June 28 – July 1, 2009, discussing these very topics.

New efforts are beginning to extend the time and place of public education to community learning centers (libraries and computer technology centers) and the home. If the key technology components of the 21st Century Classrooms become “thin clients” (essentially terminals with Internet connections) and “cloud computing,” all parts of the system connected via the Internet, it’s an easy jump to add the home and the parents to the local learning network.

This can be a very inexpensive way to extend the school day and school year by integrating the use of existing capital assets into the system. A student can log off at the end of a class, and reconnect immediately to all of the previously school-centric resources at the library, a church or the “Home Learning Zone” in the apartment or house. It’s likely that Project RED will describe the few school districts and rich communities with such a system already in place, although perhaps without cloud computing. The goal is to make this “local learning network” sufficiently clear, affordable and effective to be replicated in all of the nation’s schools and classrooms.

Adding Home Learning Zones and Public Housing to the Local Learning Network

With the technology-leveraging capacities of the Internet, thin clients and cloud computing, it is possible – through institutional collaboration – to create Neighborhood Learning Networks, the objective of which is to prepare all students for higher education, the modern workplace and motivation for lifelong learning.

Once the local network is in place, it should be relatively easy to add “employment” and “business incubation” to the objectives of the Neighborhood Network, in effect creating a “Neighborhood Learning, Employment and Business Incubation Network.” These are the types of collaboration that need to be planned and implemented to create winning NTIA BTOP proposals.

Donald S. Samuelson has more than 30 years of experience in government-assisted housing and real estate development. He has a passion for applying broadband to provide solutions in the fields of education and training. E-mail him at DSSA310@aol.com, or contact him by phone at 847-420-1732.

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