What does $4.7 billion buy in broadband expansion?

National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) Administrator Lawrence E. Strickling spoke last week on the impact of the $4.7 billion in BTOP investment (ARRA funding to improve access to broadband). Here’s the quick tally…

  • deployed or upgraded 78,000 miles of broadband infrastructure;
  • connected 11,200 community anchor institutions—such as schools, libraries and hospitals—to broadband networks;
  • installed more than 38,600 computer workstations in 2,600 public computer centers in 1,500 communities; and
  • generated more than 510,000 new broadband subscribers.

I presume this isn’t the final tally, since I know Blandin is still doing some final tallies for their BTOP project. Strickling also spoke a bit about job creation related to the funding..

Our infrastructure grantees have directly created thousands of jobs in areas such as construction, fiber splicing and network engineering. But our broadband adoption projects and public computer centers are also driving employment in another way. They are reaching people who may never have even turned on a computer – a group that includes a disproportionate number of low-income Americans, senior citizens and members of minority groups – and teaching them how to use a mouse, navigate the Internet and set up an email account. These programs are also instructing people on how to write resumes, find Internet job postings and even apply for jobs over the Web.

These are skills that many of us take for granted. But for those stuck on the wrong side of the digital divide, not having this basic digital literacy can be a barrier to employment. Many job listings are only posted online these days and many employers only accept job applications online. What’s more, today’s job market demands a basic knowledge of computers, software and the Internet.

And a little bit on next steps…

We are working to determine how we can extend the lessons learned from our projects to other communities that did not receive Recovery Act grants.  For example, we will soon release a toolkit highlighting successful strategies to increase broadband adoption in inner city, rural or ethnic communities that can be used by communities anywhere to increase the level of digital literacy and broadband adoption in their areas.  For schools, our program will bring 100 megabits per second service to less than 10 percent of the nation’s K-12 schools.  Another 30 percent, it is estimated, already receive broadband service at the speeds recommended by the school technology directors association.  That leaves around 60 percent of our schools still needing upgrades in order to deliver the quality of education that our students need in the 21st century.

It’s fun to know that maybe we’re a step ahead of the game in Minnesota in terms of extending the program with the Blandin Foundation decision to morph their ARRA-funded project (Minnesota Intelligent Rural Communities) into a new iteration, Blandin Broadband Communities. I hope other areas are as lucky and other public and private entities are wise in their investments!

This entry was posted in economic development, Funding by Ann Treacy. Bookmark the permalink.

About Ann Treacy

I have a Master’s Degree in Library and Information Science. I have been interested or involved in providing access to information through the Internet since 1994, when I worked for Minnesota’s first Internet service provider. I am pleased to be a part of the Blandin on Broadband Team. I also work with MN Coalition on Government Information, Minnesota Rural Partners, and the American Society for Information Science and Technology.

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