How do other areas handle the digital divide?

At the MN Broadband Task Force meeting earlier this month, the Task Force learned from Colin Rhinesmith that are four aspects or strategies of a successful digital inclusion plan:

  • Access to good, affordable computers
  • Reduced rates for broadband
  • Public access (such as at libraries)
  • Training

The NTIA (National Telecommunications and Information Administration) recently posted a recap of some of the successful projects they funded in the Pacific Northwest. I thought it might be interesting to see how – if at all – they addressed those four strategies – especially since as the article points out, Internet adoption rates in the Pacific Northwest are above national levels:

Much of the funding in the area went to connectivity…

Northwest Open Access Network, or NoaNet, highlighted the role of public utilities in providing broadband to local communities across Washington State. Noanet, a consortium of 10 public utility districts that provides wholesale telecom services, used nearly $139 million in BTOP funding to expand its high-speed network by more than 1,200 fiber miles, connect 300 schools, libraries and other anchors, provide new access to 16 last-mile providers and increase speeds for another 34. Today, NoaNet operates a 3,300-mile network that delivers broadband speeds of up to 100 gigabits per second.

Sandy, Ore., officials said the city can hardly keep up with demand after launching a municipal fiber network 22 months ago. With a 50 percent take rate at launch and 10-15 new sign-ups every week, there is currently a three-month wait to get connected. SandyNet network was financed with a $7.5 million revenue bond. It offers speeds of up to a gigabit thanks to a $7.8 million BTOP grant that went to the County of Clackamas, Ore., to build a dark fiber network to link local communities like Sandy to the Internet backbone.

And ToledoTel offered proof that small, family-owned local phone companies can bring advanced technology to rural communities. The company has built out fiber-to-the-home service in its own service territory, and has partnered with neighboring public utility districts to bring fiber to the home to surrounding areas.

But some also went to computers, training and reduces rates…

The workshop also underscored that digital inclusion is about more than just providing access. It’s about teaching people how to use the Internet to look for a job or sign up for government services or access healthcare information. And it’s about making broadband affordable.

That’s why ToledoTel used a $2 million BTOP award to provide free laptops, Internet training and broadband service to about 800 people in its service territory, includes members of the Cowlitz Tribe. And it’s why Seattle has done more than just streamline permitting processes, update right-of-way policies and modernize the cable franchising process to make it easier for carriers to invest. The city also offers digital literacy training and has partnered with Google to make free portable Wi-Fi hot spots available for checkout from local libraries. At the other end of the state, the Spokane Public Library is exploring ways to boost Wi-Fi signals at its six branches to provide access to surrounding communities.

This entry was posted in Digital Divide 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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