Late last month, I had the pleasure of joining representatives from the Keystone Initiative for Network Based Education and Research (KINBER) as they celebrated the completion of their statewide network linking many of the state’s colleges and universities. What had long been out of reach for Pennsylvania’s education community had finally become a reality with the help of NTIA’s broadband grant program.
Unlike most of its neighboring states, Pennsylvania did not have a statewide broadband network to serve the ever-expanding needs of educational institutions, healthcare centers, and other community institutions. That is until KINBER leveraged a $99.6 million grant from NTIA, along with $29 million in matching contributions, to build the Pennsylvania Research and Education Network (PennREN). The recently completed 1,600-mile statewide network currently provides affordable broadband service to customers, mostly colleges and universities, through 63 connection points on the network reaching 50 counties throughout Pennsylvania.
The White House recently set an ambitious goal to connect 99 percent of American students to ultra-fast broadband within five years. President Obama’s ConnectED initiative would bring Internet speeds of at least 100 megabits per second and high-speed wireless to K-12 schools across the nation.
At NTIA, we are already making these types of connections a reality in K-12 schools through our Broadband Technology Opportunities Program, which has invested about $4 billion in roughly 230 projects nationwide to expand broadband availability and use. Of our 116 network infrastructure projects, about 75 percent are linking or supplying additional bandwidth to schools. Overall, roughly 10,000 schools in 44 states are being connected or upgraded, and almost 70 percent are getting access to speeds of at least 100 megabits.
Thanks to our grant program, teachers, students and parents are witnessing how technology can transform education, expand student horizons and create new opportunities for those living in even the most remote corners of the country.
A high-speed Internet connection can let students take online courses and access cutting-edge research at universities across the country. It can bring Advanced Placement classes and foreign language programs to small rural schools with limited resources. And it can help teachers customize lessons for students at different learning levels by leveraging all sorts of online curriculum materials.
This post is part of our “Spotlight on NTIA” blog series, which is highlighting the work that NTIA employees are doing to advance NTIA’s mission of promoting broadband adoption, finding spectrum to meet the growing demand for wireless technologies, and ensuring the Internet remains an engine for innovation and economic growth.
NTIA Chief Economist Jim McConnaughey is, as one would expect from an economist, passionate about economics and its use in public policy.
Yet, McConnaughey’s first job out of college as a junior-level economist at the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) was more serendipity than strategic career planning. McConnaughey said he sought a job at the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) but due to a misunderstanding was given a phone number to call about an opening at the FCC.
He quickly realized his mistake but was intrigued by the work the FCC was engaged in at the time, which included an in-depth look at the Bell System’s monopoly of the U.S. phone market – a probe that eventually helped lead to its breakup. His nine-year stint at the FCC cemented his interest in communications policy issues. After leaving the FCC in 1983, McConnaughey went to work as the research manager at a public policy consulting firm, where he co-authored two books and testified in rate cases. After six years he wanted to return to the government. He eventually landed at NTIA as its senior economist, working on a variety of issues including universal service, competition, and regulatory reform and has remained with the agency for 24 years.
To illustrate the impact of the $4 billion Recovery Act investment in the Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP) and State Broadband Initiative (SBI), NTIA has developed a user friendly online tool to visualize the high-speed broadband networks, public computer centers and Internet training programs funded across the country.
The BTOP map went live in 2012 with data submitted by NTIA’s grantees in their 2011 progress reports. And we recently updated the map using data from last year’s progress reports.
As of the end of 2012, our projects had built or upgraded more than 86,000 miles of high-speed network infrastructure and connected more than 12,000 schools, libraries and other anchor institutions. They had installed more than 41,000 workstations in public computer centers, provided more than 12 million hours of computer and Internet training to more than 4 million people, and recorded more than 521,000 new residential broadband subscriptions.
President Obama today issued a Presidential Memorandum that builds on the Administration’s commitment to make additional spectrum available for wireless broadband to drive innovation, expand consumer services, and increase job creation and economic growth. The memorandum establishes a set of measures that Federal agencies, in collaboration with industry and other stakeholders, will now take to more aggressively enhance spectrum efficiency and enable access to more spectrum for consumer services and applications.
Many of the new measures are common-sense ways to improve spectrum efficiency. Under the memorandum, an agency that requests a new spectrum assignment or that seeks to procure a spectrum-dependent system will have to document its consideration of alternative approaches and verify that it is pursuing the most spectrum-efficient method, in consideration of all relevant factors including cost and agency mission.
New data collected as part of a joint project of NTIA and the Economics and Statistics Administration (ESA) show the U.S. is making significant progress in the Obama administration’s efforts to get more Americans connected to the Internet. As of October 2012, 72.4 percent of American households (88 million households) have high-speed Internet at home – a 3.8 percentage point (5.5 percent) increase over the July 2011 figure.
Expanding broadband access and adoption is a top priority of NTIA and the Obama Administration. Since 2009, NTIA has invested about $4 billion in projects around the nation to expand access to and use of broadband. Broadband adoption is key to ensuring that all Americans can take full advantage of the opportunities presented by the digital economy.
To promote broadband adoption, NTIA awarded $250 million in grants to teach digital literacy skills and to help low-income households acquire discounted computer equipment and sign up for affordable broadband service. We also provided roughly $200 million in grants to install and upgrade computer centers in schools, libraries, and other public buildings to provide Internet access to those who do not have service at home. These projects made enormous strides in tackling the unique and stubborn realities that separate the broadband “haves” from the “have nots” nationwide. NTIA recently compiled some of the best practices developed from broadband adoption and digital literacy projects it funded into a Broadband Adoption Toolkit. The toolkit leverages the experience of about 100 communities to benefit the entire nation, providing practical ideas and tools for overcoming barriers to getting more Americans online.
While broadband availability has expanded for all parts of the United States, NTIA data has consistently shown that urban areas have greater access to broadband at faster speeds than rural areas. In a new report released today, NTIA and the Commerce Department’s Economics and Statistics Administration (ESA) delve deeper into the differences between broadband availability in rural and urban areas.
This latest report is part of a series from NTIA that examines broadband availability data in greater detail. One key finding of the new report suggests that, in many cases, the closer a community lies to a central city, the more likely it is to have access to broadband at higher speeds. This is significant because some lower-density communities are located closer to the central city of a metropolitan area and have more access to faster broadband speeds than higher- density communities that are more distant from a central city.
Rural areas can be either within metropolitan areas (exurbs) or outside of metro areas (very rural areas), and while they each have approximately the same share of the total population (more than 9 percent) there is a wide gap in broadband availability between these two types of communities. The report shows that in 2011, 76 percent of residents in exurbs, which generally ring suburbs, had access to basic wireline broadband, defined as advertised speeds of 3 Mbps download and 768 kbps upload. In contrast, 65 percent of very rural residents, who live outside of metropolitan areas, had basic wired service. This disparity between exurban and very rural areas is even greater when it comes to access to much faster broadband service of at least 25 Mpbs. Only 18 percent of very rural residents had access to broadband at this speed compared to nearly 38 percent of exurban residents. There are also significant gaps between exurbs and very rural areas when it comes to access to wireless broadband.
Sixteen projects funded through NTIA’s Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP) will be honored tonight for being selected as 2013 Computerworld Honor Laureates. They’ll each receive medallions inscribed with the Computerworld Honors Program’s mission, “A Search for New Heroes,” at the Computerworld Honors Awards Gala in Washington, D.C.
The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA)-funded NTIA programs selected are: California Emerging Technology Fund; City of Boston; City and County of San Francisco; Clackamas County; Colorado Governor’s Office of Information Technology (SBI grant); Government of DC; Horizon Telcom; Internet2; MCNC; Merit Network; Northwest Open Access Network; Ohio Academic Resources Network (subrecipient); OneCommunity; School Board of Miami-Dade County, Florida; Technology for All; and the Youth Policy Institute.
In its 25th year, the Computerworld Honors Program recognizes achievements in 11 award categories. The Recovery Act-funded BTOP and State Broadband Initiative (SBI) grant recipients selected as Laureates are honored in seven of these categories: Collaboration, Economic Development, Emerging Technology, Human Services, Innovation, Mobile Access, and Philanthropy. This year, 22 judges selected 269 Laureates from more than 700 nominations, representing 29 countries.
NTIA’s Institute for Telecommunication Sciences (ITS) in Boulder, CO, has been hard at work for years on research aimed at giving first responders next-generation technology that will help save lives.
The public safety research is done through a joint venture between ITS and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) Law Enforcement Standards Office (OLES), called the Public Safety Communications Research Program (PSCR). PSCR is hosting a Stakeholder Conference in Westminster, Colo. June 4-6 to bring together representatives from public safety, Federal agencies, industry, and academia to learn about PSCR’s recent work efforts related to the build out of the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet) nationwide public safety broadband network.
Beyond the research PSCR is doing for FirstNet, a key area of research at PSCR over the years has been improving the quality of voice communications on digital radios used by public safety. PSCR recently released audio files used as part of a series of tests focused on enhancing the sound quality of digital radios used by public safety officials. The audio files will be a valuable resource for other researchers, and are now on the PSCR web site: http://www.pscr.gov/projects/audio_quality/mrt_library/mrt_library1.php .
This is the second post in our “Spotlight on NTIA” blog series, which is highlighting the work that NTIA employees are doing to advance NTIA’s mission of promoting broadband adoption, finding spectrum to meet the growing demand for wireless technologies, and ensuring the Internet remains an engine for innovation and economic growth.
Karl Nebbia, associate administrator of the Office of Spectrum Management, has among the most challenging jobs at NTIA: finding enough spectrum to meet both the government’s and industry’s need for wireless technologies.
NTIA is in charge of managing spectrum used by federal agencies to perform a plethora of critical functions for the United States from air traffic control to weather satellites to fighting forest fires.
But Nebbia’s office also is working to help meet the president’s goal of finding 500 megahertz of spectrum for wireless broadband over the next decade. As part of this effort, Nebbia has been guiding the Commerce Spectrum Management Advisory Committee, which has been working with other federal agencies and industry stakeholders to identify bands of federal spectrum that can be freed up for commercial use.
“The most difficult challenge is trying to accommodate all of these new systems and doing it with pretty limited staff,” says Nebbia, who has worked in spectrum management at NTIA for three decades.