NTIA Launches Minority Broadband Initiative – for Southern US

Big news from the NTIA on their Minority Broadband Initiative…

Today, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) launched a new Minority Broadband Initiative (MBI) focused on solving broadband deployment challenges in vulnerable communities. NTIA announced the initiative at the 2019 Carolinas Alliance for Success in Education (CASE) Summit held at Johnson C. Smith University. The program seeks to ensure that Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) can successfully advance broadband connectivity on their campuses and in their surrounding communities, enabling the participation of all Americans in the digital economy.

To prepare students and surrounding communities to lead in the digital age, this year’s CASE Summit highlights the importance of HBCUs as force multipliers for economic growth and rural prosperity. The summit is committed to building strategies to compete successfully for federal and public-private resources to fulfill HBCUs’ historical mission. …

Broadly, the MBI seeks to achieve the following strategic policy objectives:

  1. Convening a forum where stakeholders can explore options for leveraging HBCU broadband infrastructure to connect neighboring communities of vulnerable populations; and

  2. Using broadband infrastructure investment as a catalyst for adoption that will result in job growth and economic development and deployment of advanced mobile technologies primarily in the economically distressed communities of the rural South.

NTIA’s work on the Minority Broadband Initiative complements the White House Initiative on Historically Black Colleges and Universities, which supports the nation’s priorities of fully deploying 5G and improving the prosperity of economically distressed and unconnected rural communities. The CASE Summit and Smart HBCU planning teams will facilitate conversations among North Carolina and South Carolina HBCUs, local community leaders, and state stakeholders to ensure affordable broadband in their communities, especially rural areas.

I read it with great interest as I know we could use a push in reducing the achievement gap in Minnesota and broadband would be a great tool. But after reading the report mentioned above that the intention isn’t to impact Minnesota. The report is more focused on the MBI’s strategy policy objective…

Using broadband infrastructure investment as a catalyst for adoption that will result in job growth and economic development and deployment of advanced mobile technologies primarily in the economically distressed communities of the rural South.

It feels like maybe we could call this a Minority Broadband Initiative for the South, which is great but that might indicate that one was in the works for the Midwest and North as well.

Rural students need broadband to prepare for college like suburban and urban peers

The Chronicle of Higher Education newsletter recently included an article by Goldie Blumenstyk  on rural college preparedness and broadband. They set out the problem…

A report on the state of rural education came out last week, asserting that some schools and places “face nothing less than an emergency in the education and well-being of children.”

Part of that emergency is the low level of “college readiness” in many of these rural districts, which enroll nearly one in five public-school students in the United States.

They had me at “emergency.”

And places broadband in the middle of the equation…

For matters like college preparation, one of the biggest obstacles that students still face is a lack of ready and reliable broadband access to the internet. In urban areas, that’s often an issue of cost. In rural areas, it’s often actual access as well. “It’s a huge deal right now,” said Klein, noting that for tests like the SAT and ACT, “a lot of the prep tools are online.”

As it happens, Klein spoke to me this week from San Diego, where he was attending the annual meeting of the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities, where he heard a presentation on a creative broadband-access project sponsored by the extension service at Oklahoma State University. It gave portable Wi-Fi-hotspot devices to local libraries, which then offered them to patrons for checkout.

OK, broadband is a start. The bigger question is: Even if rural students are college-ready, will there be college-level jobs waiting for them back home when they graduate? Clearly, colleges aren’t the only organizations that have a role here. But certainly they can play a part. They can do more to ensure that high-school students understand the ways a college education can be used in rural settings. As Klein noted, many agricultural industries today rely on people with knowledge of chemistry and GIS mapping skills, for example. “Those are some serious college-level tools,” he said.

I know there are university leaders out there right now pondering the question of how their institutions can be more relevant in their rural communities. (I had a long conversation on that topic with one of them just last week.) And Klein told me he hoped that the new report “excites some strategies.” So I expect this to be an issue that I and my colleagues continue to mine in the months to come.

I think a key here is helping students and local businesses understand the power of broadband. We don’t know what we don’t know and in a world where broadband is limited it can feel like a waste of time to learn how to make use of it. Why build demand when supply is already low? Unfortunately that does leave some areas behind. Whereas an influx of students who know the hometown and its industry return from school with some innovative ideas – that might build demand and a buzz for getting better broadband.

Broadband Parity Act – use 25 Mbps down and 3 Mbps up across the board

The Hill reports…

Sens. Jacky Rosen (D-Nev.) and Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) on Friday introduced a bill to create “parity” among the government’s dozens of broadband programs.

The Broadband Parity Act would set one standard for “high-speed internet” across more than 20 programs aimed at improving access to broadband in the U.S. Right now, each program adheres to its own definition of what constitutes speedy internet.

It seems like a good idea – but it seems like they could aim for faster to really create parity in urban and rural areas…

The act would require all of the programs to use the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) definition of “high-speed,” which is 25 megabits per second (mbps) download and 3 mbps upload.

Any areas that do not have access to that internet speed will not be considered “served” under the legislation.

The article does mention mapping, which is an integral part of tracking parity…

The Senate panel advanced legislation to address the issue earlier this year. The Broadband Deployment Accuracy and Technological Availability (DATA) Act would require the FCC to collect more granular and accurate data on how many Americans have access to high-speed internet.


EVENT: NTIA’s BroadbandUSA Practical Broadband Conversations Webinar Nov 20

An invitation from BroadbandUSA…

You are invited to join NTIA’s BroadbandUSA Practical Broadband Conversations Webinar

Topic: Building Digital Workforce Skills at the Local Level

Date:   Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Time:  2:00 to 3:00 p.m. ET

Overview: A digitally skilled workforce is essential for the economic development of our nation’s communities. Companies of all sizes need employees that understand technology, whether it’s on the business or operational side of the organization. Join BroadbandUSA to hear how local leaders are building partnerships between governments, businesses, nonprofits and education to help residents attain the skills needed to thrive in a digital economy.


  • David Keyes, Digital Equity Program Manager, City of Seattle Information Technology
  • Stacey Wedlake, Research Coordinator and Analyst, Technology and Social Change Group (TASCHA) at University of Washington Information School
  • Shonna Dorsey, Senior Business Systems Consultant, Mutual of Omaha
  • Kagan Coughlin, Co-Founder, Trustee Base Camp Coding Academy

Please pre-register for the webinar using this registration link.   After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the webinar.

Want to access past Practical Broadband Conversations webinars? Visit our webinar archives for past presentations, transcripts and audio recordings.

EVENT: Libraries in…Laundromats? Webinar December 4

From MN Library Services…

Join us for an upcoming webinar on Libraries in Laundromats – Bringing Learning Spaces to Ordinary Places.

When: Wednesday, December 4, 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.
Presenters: Adam Echelman and Lily Ross from Libraries Without Borders

The Wash and Learn Initiative, coordinated by Libraries Without Borders in partnership with local public libraries, brings technology and library programming to people where they are – in laundromats!

During this webinar, you will learn about the mission of the Wash and Learn Initiative; what makes literacy programs in laundromats unique; and how librarians in Minnesota are engaging laundromat patrons through programming. Webinar attendees will walk away with a newfound understanding of how to bring learning spaces to ordinary places.

Register now for Libraries in Laundromats. Please contact Hannah Buckland (651-582-8792) if you have questions.

Want to collect census data online? You might have to get more people online.

GovTech recently talked about the opportunity inherent in moving the census tracking online…

The 2020 U.S. Census will be the nation’s first high-tech count, with residents encouraged to primarily respond online.

While this has the potential to foster a more efficient Census, advocates and officials say many hard-to-count populations are not comfortable using computers. Or lack access to high-speed Internet at home. Or have cybersecurity concerns. Or don’t know how to find and fill out the Census online.

… Part of the challenge for April’s 2020 count is that Census volunteers and other advocates must help large groups of the population overcome the digital divide.

They must essentially perform digital equity work in the name of the Census. It’s a heavy lift, to be sure, but many say there is a silver lining — digital equity work for the Census can be executed in a way that has a lasting impact on underserved communities for years to come.

The article gives a special nod to the unique role of libraries…

Lowe expects many members of the community to look to the libraries as the ideal place to complete the Census, given that the library is seen as a friendly and welcoming place to many, one that is associated with government but perhaps not as overtly as a place like city hall. To encourage people to think of the library as a Census destination — as well as to understand the importance of the Census — the Dallas Public Library is integrating messaging into its community outreach efforts, which take place at schools, neighborhood events such as block parties and community centers.

Broadband use with immigrants is increasing

NTIA just released a report on American’s Hispanic and immigrant use of broadband. The good news is that usage is increasing – as the chart below shows…

But I found at least if not more interesting is that use with immigrant populations is increasing…

In a previous analysis of the challenges faced by Hispanic Americans, NTIA found that language barriers and immigration patterns were associated with lower rates of Internet use. But while immigrants continued to be less likely to go online than their U.S.-born peers in 2017, the differences appear to be shrinking. Internet use among non-U.S. citizens jumped by 11 percentage points between 2013 and 2017, from 62 percent to 73 percent, and adoption among naturalized citizens climbed from 68 percent to 75 percent during this period.

And use with second generation is even better…

New NTIA analysis shows that persons born in the U.S. to immigrant parents were nearly as likely to use the Internet as those with two U.S.-born parents. While 74 percent of immigrants used the Internet in 2017, 77 percent of U.S.-born persons with at least one immigrant parent did so, compared with 78 percent of those born to two U.S.-born parents. The similarity in Internet usage rates between U.S.-born persons with immigrant parents and those with U.S.-born parents is consistent across age groups (see Figure 2).

I understand the language barrier and for many immigrants cost is an issue. But the benefits of broadband must be even greater when it’s likely a bridge back to your home and family. And of course with broadband use comes benefits in terms of remote access to education, jobs and information. I’m glad to see the rates rising.