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Getting Started on an NTIA Broadband Stimulus Application

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 guts of the application will consist of one or two page narratives in the following areas: project proposal, project benefits and innovation, awareness campaign, impact evaluation, technical strategy, project timeline, budget and budget narrative.

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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.

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.

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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 commentary@breakfast.media. 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.

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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.mcpeak@cetfund.org

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 commentary@breakfast.media. 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.

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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 frankgornick@comcast.net, 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 commentary@breakfast.media. The views reflected in Expert Opinion pieces do not necessarily reflect the views of Broadband Breakfast and Breakfast Media LLC.

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