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Connecting Broadband Networks and Applications in NTIA Proposals

LAKE FOREST, Ill., July 19, 2009 – The NTIA’s BTOP program tracks the old NTIA Technology Opportunities Program. There are going to be maximum awards for those applications which attempt to solve multiple policy objectives, on the “biggest bang for the stimulus buck” theory. And states are going to be influential in the evaluation system, to the extent that their prioritization efforts are transparent and fair.



Editor’s Note: The following guest commentary appears by special invitation of 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 Not all commentaries may be published.

By Don Samuelson, Guest Commentary,

LAKE FOREST, Ill., July 19, 2009 – There were three major messages from the TV 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 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, or contact him by phone at 847-420-1732.

Broadband's Impact

Julio Fuentes: Access Delayed Was Access Denied to the Poorest Americans

Big Telecom companies caused months and months of delays in the rollout of the Emergency Broadband Benefit.



The author of this Expert Opinion is Julio Fuentes, president and CEO of the Florida State Hispanic Chamber of Commerce

Remember when millions of students in dense urban areas and less-populated rural areas weren’t dependent on home broadband access so they could attend school?

Remember when we didn’t need telehealth appointments, and broadband access in urban and outlying areas was an issue that could be dealt with another day?

Remember when the capability to work remotely in underserved communities wasn’t the difference between keeping a job and losing it?

Not anymore.

Education. Health care. Employment. The COVID-19 pandemic affected them all, and taking care of a family in every respect required broadband access and technology to get through large stretches of the pandemic.

You’d think the Federal Communications Commission and its then-acting chairwoman would have pulled out all the stops to make sure that this type of service was available to as many people as possible, as soon as possible — especially when there’s a targeted federally funded program for that important purpose.

Alas, by all appearances, some Big Telecom companies threw their weight around and caused months and months of delays, denying this life-changing access to the people who needed it most — at the time they needed it most.

The program in question is the federally funded Emergency Broadband Benefit program. The EBB offered eligible households — often the poorest Americans — a discount of up to $50 per month toward broadband service, and those households can also receive a one-time discount of up to $100 to purchase a laptop or other computer if they contribute just $10 to the purchase. Huge value and benefits for technology that should no longer be the privilege of only those with resources.

Seems fairly straightforward, right?

It should have been. But FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel slammed on the brakes. Why? It turns out that Big Telecom giants wanted more time to get ready to grab a piece of the action — a lot more time. While the program was ready to go in February, it didn’t actually launch until several months later.

That’s months of unnecessary delay.

But it wasn’t providers who were waiting. It was Americans in underserved and rural areas, desperate for a connection to the world.

Here are some numbers for Rosenworcel to consider:

  • As recently as March, 58% of white elementary students were enrolled for full-time in-person instruction, while only 36% of Black students, 35% of Latino students, and 18% of Asian peers were able to attend school in person.
  • Greater portions of families of color and low-income families reportedly fell out of contact with their children’s schools during the pandemic. In one national survey in spring 2020, nearly 30% of principals from schools serving “large populations of students of color and students from lower-income households” said they had difficulty reaching some of their students and/or families — in contrast to the 14% of principals who said the same in wealthier, predominantly white schools.
  • In fall 2020, only 61% of households with income under $25,000 reported that the internet was “always available” for their children to use for educational purposes; this share was 86% among households with incomes above $75,000.

And all of these numbers cut across other key issues such as health care and maintaining employment.

Access delayed was access denied to the poorest, most isolated Americans during the worst pandemic in generations.

Allowing Big Telecom companies to get their ducks in a row (and soak up as many federal dollars as possible) left poor and rural Americans with no options, for months. Who knows how many children went without school instruction? Or how many illnesses went undiagnosed? Or how many jobs were terminated?

This delay was appalling, and Chairwoman Rosenworcel should have to answer for her actions to the Senate Commerce Committee as it considers her nomination for another term as commissioner. Rather than expedite important help to people who needed it most, she led the agency’s delay — for the benefit of giant providers, not the public.

Hopefully, the committee moves with more dispatch than she did in considering her actual fitness to be FCC chairwoman for another term.

Julio Fuentes is president and CEO of the Florida State Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. This piece is exclusive to Broadband Breakfast.

Broadband Breakfast accepts commentary from informed observers of the broadband scene. Please send pieces to The views reflected in Expert Opinion pieces do not necessarily reflect the views of Broadband Breakfast and Breakfast Media LLC.

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Broadband's Impact

Sunne McPeak: Achieving True Digital Equity Requires Strong Leadership and Sincere Collaboration

Collaboration between community leaders will be essential in ensuring success of the Biden infrastructure bill in California.



The author of this Expert Opinion is Sunne Wright McPeak

This week, President Joe Biden signed the infrastructure bill, which includes $65 billion for expanding broadband deployment and access for all Americans.

The national plan is described as the most significant infrastructure upgrade in the three decades since the Cold War. “This is an opportunity to create an Eisenhower national highway system for the information age,” says a former White House National Security Council senior director.

For California – the nation’s largest state – it means a minimum $100 million for broadband infrastructure that is designed to expand high-speed internet access for at least 545,000 residents, particularly in unserved and underserved communities, according to the White House. The federal funding will support California’s $6 billion broadband infrastructure plan.

Closing the digital divide and achieving true digital equity requires strong leadership and sincere collaboration among public agencies, internet service providers and civic leaders to seize this unique opportunity to achieve strategic priorities in education, telehealth, transportation and economic development. The 2021 USC-CETF Statewide Survey on Broadband Adoption highlighted that a significant number of Californians will be left behind because they are unable to access the internet and other digital functionality needed for vital activities.

Now, the question is how to ensure the public’s funds will be used as effectively and efficiently as possible. California must implement a thoughtful, aggressive strategy that will maximize immediate impact and optimize return on investment. Separately, for several years, CETF has been calling for broadband deployment as a green strategy for sustainability; that urgency only grows in the wake of the COP26 climate meetings. As leaders begin to make historic investments, they should embrace these key principles for action:

  • Prioritize and drive infrastructure construction to the hardest-to-reach residents — rural unserved areas, tribal lands, and poor urban neighborhoods — and then connect all locations, especially anchor institutions (schools, libraries and health care facilities), along the path of deployment.
  • Require open-access fiber middle-mile infrastructure with end-user internet speeds sufficient to support distance learning and telehealth.
  • Strive to achieve ubiquitous deployment in each region to avoid cherry picking for more lucrative areas.
  • Encourage coordination among local governments and regional agencies to streamline permitting and achieve economies of scale.
  • Develop an open competitive process to achieve the most cost-effective investment of new dollars by optimizing use of existing infrastructure that ratepayers and taxpayers already have built.

To learn more, please contact Sunne Wright McPeak at

Sunne Wright McPeak is President and CEO of California Emerging Technology Fund, a statewide non-profit foundation with 15 years of experience addressing broadband issues to close the Digital Divide in California. This piece is exclusive to Broadband Breakfast.

Broadband Breakfast accepts commentary from informed observers of the broadband scene. Please send pieces to The views reflected in Expert Opinion pieces do not necessarily reflect the views of Broadband Breakfast and Breakfast Media LLC. 

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Broadband's Impact

Frank Gornick: Valley Leaders Join State to Bring Ubiquitous Broadband to the San Joaquin Valley

Bringing internet capability to communities throughout the San Joaquin Valley is the focus of a new effort.



The author of this Expert Opinion is Frank Gornick.

As the pandemic begins to recede, it leaves behind warnings of weak links in our overall health as a functioning society. The signs are everywhere: health care, water, infrastructure, education, supply chains and equitable access to technology and opportunity.

Under the guidance of the San Joaquin Regional Broadband Consortium, and with support from the California Emerging Technology Fund, our goal is to bring ubiquitous broadband to the eight counties that compromise the San Joaquin Valley, among the most underserved regions of the state and underestimated in ability to lead and drive change.

And we will do it within a year — a bold but doable achievement.

As a start, we are announcing a new partnership, #SanJoaquinValleyNetwork, which will seek the necessary resources to deliver a world class internet to enhance the economic and human conditions because our leaders want no less for our citizens.

To be clear, this is a significant undertaking with many moving parts. Therefore, understanding the players and the territory is essential.

Understanding the infrastructure landscape is critical

It begins by identifying what internet infrastructure currently exists and assessing the internet’s capacity in the eight counties. Where is it robust and, where is it lacking.

Why this year? There is political will and the funds to do it.

In July, the governor signed SB 156, which authorizes the state to work with counties, internet service providers, school districts, hospitals, libraries, businesses, manufacturers, farmers and municipalities. The goal is to develop a statewide open-access, middle-mile broadband network, including creating rural exchange points with last-mile access to homes, businesses and essential services.

The good news is that we are building upon the existing network, not starting over. Therefore, these expenditures will be much more efficient and effective.

In addition to the clearly stated intent of the legislation, state leaders have provided $6 billion for implementation.

Continuing into November, the San Joaquin Valley counties will be organizing and planning under the auspices of SJVRBC to obtain the maximum amount of financial assistance to implement the goals of #SanJoaquinValleyNetwork.

Applying for federal grant dollars in San Joaquin Valley

As this effort gets underway, #SanJoaquinValleyNetwork will begin applying for federal and state dollars to realize our goal, bringing ubiquitous broadband to the Valley in a year.

What outcomes can we expect? First, as we have learned from the pandemic, we must do more to expand deployment and access because it is critical for so many people to have reliable, robust connections to the services they need and to access new opportunities. However, not everyone has equal access.

The internet has provided greater access to health care, but not everyone has equal access, particularly seniors, low income households and rural residents. Students at all grades for the past 18 months have had to adjust to online learning, but not everyone has equal access or capacity required to succeed and gain the skills to join the workforce of the future.

Our economic engine, the agricultural industry, has relied on breakthrough technologies that depend on high speed internet, and dependability and access to the internet is necessary for growth and productivity.

The investment to extend broadband to the most remote and underserved communities will raise the standard of living of many — and the quality of life for everyone in the San Joaquin Valley.

Billions of dollars in California and across the country will be invested in deploying internet infrastructure to rural, tribal and urban neighborhoods in poverty. Construction of publicly subsidized, open-access middle-mile infrastructure that includes last-mile deployment achieves the best of both objectives — ensuring immediate internet access for businesses and residents. That’s why business, education and civic leaders throughout the San Joaquin Valley are applauding this effort.

We urge leaders in Kern, Tulare, Kings, Fresno, Madera, Merced, Stanislaus, and San Joaquin counties to join this effort.

For more information on the #SanJoaquinValleyPartnership, please contact Dr. Frank Gornick at, 559-281-5200.

Dr. Frank Gornick is the chancellor emeritus of West Hills Community College District, where he served as chancellor for 16 years. He is the project manager of the #SanJoaquinValleyNetwork and lives in Lemoore. This piece is reprinted from The Fresno Bee with permission.

Broadband Breakfast accepts commentary from informed observers of the broadband scene. Please send pieces to The views reflected in Expert Opinion pieces do not necessarily reflect the views of Broadband Breakfast and Breakfast Media LLC.

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