The Economics and Statistics Administration (ESA) and the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) released a report today entitled “Exploring the Digital Nation: Computer and Internet Use at Home.” This report investigates broadband Internet use in the United States and finds that disparities continue to exist in broadband Internet adoption among demographic and geographic groups. The report also delves into the reasons why households have not adopted broadband Internet, an important input into the design of policies to achieve a more digitally connected nation.
We all know that the Internet increasingly plays a key role in our everyday lives, including applying for and getting today’s jobs. Broadband internet adoption has increased substantially in only a few years, rising to 68% of households in 2010 from only 51% of households three years earlier and from 64% in 2009, the last time ESA and NTIA looked at these issues.
While this points to progress, a digital divide still exists between different racial and ethnic groups and between urban and rural areas in the United States. Broadband adoption rates varied substantially between different racial and ethnic groups, with 81% of Asian and 72% of White households having broadband Internet access, compared to only 55% and 57% of Black and Hispanic households. The urban-rural divide is also wide, with 70% of urban households having broadband Internet access compared to only 57% of rural households. Socio-economic differences, such as income and education, explain much – but not all – of this divide.
As Deputy Administrator of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, I serve essentially as the Chief Operating Officer of the agency. Though much of my time is spent on management, I also work on public policy, especially the challenges of expanding broadband Internet use in underserved communities and improving communications for the nation’s first responders. I am honored to play a role in addressing issues that are so vital to our nation’s safety and economic future.
My career path began early. I was born in the United States but spent most of my childhood in Bogota, Colombia, where my father’s family lives. I knew since childhood that I would one day become a lawyer because my mother always told me so. (I would like to think that she recognized in me a precocious talent for logic and deduction, but she was actually commenting on my willingness to argue a point!) I returned to the United States as a teen and did indeed go to law school. I am glad that I did because the law is a good foundation for a career in public service, though it is certainly not mandatory.
My first full-time job was in the litigation group of a law firm. I enjoyed it but wanted to practice communications law instead. While at the firm, I ran the D.C. Hispanic Bar Association’s mentoring program for Hispanic law students. It brought me to the attention of a partner at the firm, who soon went to work at the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). I joined her at the FCC, where my communications policy work began.
I worked at the FCC for 12 years, serving in various management positions, including Senior Legal Advisor to former FCC Chairman William Kennard. In between positions at the FCC, I served as a staffer on Capitol Hill and at the National Economic Council. Before returning to government in 2009, I also worked several years in the telecommunications industry.
Earlier this year, we launched a ground-breaking interactive online map that shows what high-speed Internet services are available across the country. Like the spread of railroads and electrification spurred new economic opportunities during America’s past, broadband is supporting new economic opportunities in America today. Experts agree that we must better understand where sufficient broadband exists in order to address where it does not.
The National Broadband Map, powered by a searchable database of more than 20 million records, has already drawn more than 500,000 different users. Today we are rolling out the first significant update of the map since it was unveiled in February. The map has new data, current as of December 31. And the number of broadband providers supplying that data has increased to 1,731, up from 1,650 at launch.
Most of these new additions are small providers, including rural companies in places as varied as Alaska and Massachusetts, that may not be household names. Including them in the map will help ensure that consumers shopping for broadband service are aware of all their options.
In addition, the map now offers a new research tool that produces snapshots of individual broadband providers, showing where they offer service, what speeds they offer, and how much of the country – or of a particular state or county – they cover.
The map is an ambitious, unprecedented undertaking – the result of the most extensive set of American broadband availability data ever published – and it is only possible because of a unique federal-state-private partnership. NTIA created and is updating the map twice yearly in collaboration with the FCC, using data that every state, territory, and the District of Columbia (or their designees) collects from broadband providers or other sources.
In the 21st century global economy, America’s competitiveness requires a modern communications infrastructure, a technology-savvy workforce, and public policies that preserve the Internet as an engine for job creation, innovation, and economic growth. NTIA’s activities–at a cost of about a penny per month for each American–represent a modest yet critical investment in our economic future, one that can pay dividends for decades.
Broadband Internet is an essential ingredient not only for job creation but also for improving education, public safety, and health care. Consider this:
Broadband Internet is a catalyst for job creation. In fact, a recent report by McKinsey & Company finds that the Internet has created 2.6 jobs for each job it has eliminated. To take full advantage of the economic opportunities enabled by broadband, however, more Americans need online skills. For instance, broadband service allows a small business owner in rural America to sell her goods to consumers around the world – but online skills are also required.
NTIA’s research shows that nearly one-third of Americans (28.3 percent) do not use the Internet, leaving them cut off from the online economy. Many are rural Americans, seniors, minorities, people with disabilities, the unemployed, and those with low incomes. The most common reason for not adopting broadband is the perception that it is not needed. But broadband is increasingly needed to find jobs, and 21st century skills are needed to get those jobs.
NTIA is working on several fronts to help bridge this digital divide. Most notably, our Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP) has invested in approximately 230 projects to expand broadband access and adoption in communities nationwide. Funded by the Recovery Act, BTOP projects have already delivered more than 8,000 miles of broadband networks and installed or upgraded more than 9,000 workstations at public computer centers.
In addition, many BTOP projects are providing training in digital literacy and other job-preparedness skills. For example, Portland State University developed Learner Web, an online system of self-paced learning plans for adults who want to accomplish specific goals, such as earning a GED, preparing for a job, increasing digital literacy, or improving English language skills. The university is partnering with regional organizations to enroll adults in the lessons and to assign them tutors.
The summer heat relents, and NTIA celebrates the success of its internship program!
As one of NTIA's nine summer interns, I spent the past two months working in NTIA's Office of Public Affairs helping to manage a range of activities related to the agency's web presence and media relations. Much of my work focused on helping to develop NTIA's new website, track news coverage, and highlight some of the Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP) grantees' ongoing progress and success stories.
NTIA, under the leadership of Assistant Secretary Strickling, is building a strong internship program with year-round opportunities for students to help support the agency's work as the President's principle advisor on telecommunications and information policy issues. Pictured from left to right: Susan Tan, Kacper Szczepaniak, Agatha Cole, Margaret Ross-Martin, Assistant Secretary Lawrence E. Strickling, Ryan Hatoum, Deputy Assistant Secretary Anna M. Gomez, Rafi Goldberg, Jaclyn Ong, Alexander Ratner, Tom Randall, Deputy Chief of Staff and Internship Coordinator Jim Wasilewski
Last Friday, I visited Kannapolis, North Carolina to attend a groundbreaking ceremony for the second phase of an infrastructure project that will deploy or improve broadband networks throughout much of the state, particularly in rural areas. The effort is led by MCNC, a nonprofit broadband provider that has operated the North Carolina Research and Education Network (NCREN) for more than 25 years. The project—funded by a $104 million Recovery Act investment and $40 million in private sector matching funds—will deploy approximately 1,650 miles of new fiber. Combined with upgraded facilities, the project will add 2,600 miles of new or improved infrastructure to MCNC’s network, extending broadband to nearly 1,200 community anchor institutions, including universities, schools, community colleges, libraries, healthcare providers, and public safety facilities. Nearly 500 of those anchor institutions have already benefitted from improved access to the broadband network. Joe Freddoso, the president and CEO of MCNC, said they applied for the Recovery Act funding because bandwidth use by North Carolina institutions was growing by 30 to 40 percent each year—and without network improvements, rural communities would not be able to meet their future bandwidth needs.
Last week I visited a new WorkSource Center Satellite in South Los Angeles, where a Recovery Act investment by NTIA has funded 25 new computer stations that community members seeking jobs can use. Coupled with hands-on assistance and career counseling from trained personnel, this investment is creating economic opportunities in a neighborhood where poverty and unemployment rates are unacceptably high. All told, NTIA’s $7.5 million grant to the City of Los Angeles for its Computer Access Network (LA CAN) project – part of a $4 billion Recovery Act investment to expand broadband access and adoption in communities nationwide – will upgrade more than 180 public computer centers in some of the city’s neediest neighborhoods.
The WorkSource Center Satellite is located with the Chicana Service Action Center, whose CEO, Sophia Esparza, told me how the project is preparing job-seekers, not for yesterday’s jobs, but for the “green jobs” of the future. Customers, including returning veterans and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) recipients, are benefiting from strong partnerships between the city and local employers to place solar installers, energy auditors, lead green technicians and electrical auto technicians into well-paying jobs.
This week construction began on a fiber-optic network that will bring broadband Internet service to more than 120 communities in western and north central Massachusetts. Thanks in large part to a $45.4 million Recovery Act investment from NTIA, the project will help residents and businesses in these underserved parts of the state to better compete in today’s knowledge-based economy.
On Tuesday, I joined state and local officials, members of the project team at the Massachusetts Broadband Institute (a state-created organization that is our grantee), businesses, and others in the community to discuss the initiative, called MassBroadband 123. It will deploy broadband service to nearly 1,400 community anchor institutions, including schools, community colleges, libraries, healthcare providers, and public safety facilities – like the Sandisfield Fire Station where we met, and whose fire chief has emphasized the importance of up-to-date technology for keeping residents safe.
The project estimates they will create hundreds of jobs to build the network, but there are also longer-term economic benefits. For example, as a Sandisfield city councilman explained, the town has lost many residents to other locations where broadband, and more jobs, exist. High-speed Internet will enable residents to stay in town while working in the global market. Small businesses in western Massachusetts will be able to access consumers across the U.S. and around the world. Doctors in rural communities will also be able to connect with top specialists, whether they’re in Boston, Baton Rouge, or Bangalore. And students will have access to classrooms in the world’s best colleges. (No wonder there were even children in the crowd holding signs that read, “Broadband Rocks!”)
Yesterday I was happy to participate in a panel discussion about broadband at the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO) annual conference in San Antonio. NALEO members recognize that broadband Internet is one of the tools necessary to help their communities thrive in today's economy. In fact, I think that any conference focused on building stronger communities should include a discussion of broadband - it's a critical ingredient for job creation, economic growth, and improving education, health care, and public safety.
I talked about challenges and opportunities. NTIA's data show that although 90-95 percent of Americans live in areas with access to broadband, only 68 percent of households subscribe to the service. In fact, more than 28 percent of Americans do not use the Internet in any location, which means they are cut off from countless educational and job opportunities.
The issue is even greater for Latinos. While the Internet subscribership rate for Hispanics increased by five percentage points last year, it is still only 45 percent. Even after adjusting for socioeconomic factors like income and education, Latinos still significantly lag the national rate in broadband adoption.
Our research shows that those who lack broadband at home most commonly cite lack of interest or need as the primary reason. Interestingly, while those are certainly factors for Hispanic non-adopters, they most often cite affordability as the primary reason. So there is no single solution to bridging the digital divide.