Remarks by Deputy Assistant Secretary Simpson at the Schools, Health & Libraries Broadband Coalition 2014 Annual Conference

May 09, 2014

Angela Simpson
Deputy Assistant Secretary

National Telecommunications and Information Administration

U.S. Department of Commerce

SHLB 2014 Annual Conference
Washington, DC
May 9, 2014

As Prepared for Delivery

Thank you for having me here today. I totally appreciate that we’re standing between you and getting home for the weekend, so I’ll keep it brief.  First and foremost, I’d like to take a moment to point out that this is Public Service Recognition Week, and to thank all the public servants here at this conference for the important and inspirational work you do.

When I say inspirational, I truly mean it.  I’ve spoken at SHLB conferences before, and I’m a huge admirer of SHLB’s work as an advocate for bringing broadband to anchor institutions. I appreciate the vision you have shown and the leadership you have provided on this important policy issue.  I’d like to especially recognize John Windhausen’s work in this regard.  You are pushing the envelope in getting broadband to many of our most important community anchor institutions:  schools that are using computers and online instructional resources to teach the next generation of innovators, scientists, and entrepreneurs; hospitals that are leveraging high-speed access to increase the depth and reach of healthcare services; and libraries that are connecting people to online information and services and building digital literacy capacity among those who need it most to advance in today’s economy. All of these are investments in our collective future that pay huge dividends.  You should be proud of your accomplishments.

NTIA has had the pleasure of working with many of you through our broadband grant programs – whether it is through the infrastructure, public computer center, or sustainable adoption investments made through the Broadband Technology Opportunities Program, or through the State Broadband Initiative projects, which are collecting broadband data and helping empower states to expand their broadband capacity.

Through our broadband investments, we have witnessed the demonstrated need that community institutions have for broadband.  And we know anchor institution demand for broadband is only continuing to skyrocket as telemedicine applications, one-to-one classroom computing, and streaming video become more commonplace in hospitals, schools, and libraries. To date, our broadband grants have connected more than 21,000 community anchor institutions, including about 8,000 K-12 schools, 1,400 higher education campuses, more than 1,300 libraries, and 2,400 medical and healthcare providers. We’ve also invested in 3,000 new or improved public computer centers and brought online more than 600,000 broadband-subscribing households.

But let’s look past these metrics. We are compiling case studies and gathering information about the impact of these broadband grant projects across the country.  And we are sharing the results.  We already released three library-focused reports that highlight the incredible work libraries are doing with their broadband awards.  Today, I’d like to share with you four new case studies focusing on the benefits flowing from broadband investments in Arkansas; the Central Valley of California; West Virginia; and Tallahassee, Florida.

Don’t let my summaries here fool you into thinking that these are brief vignettes about the projects. In these studies commissioned from ASR, we tried to very systematically demonstrate the benefits of the broadband projects.  These reports are 30+ page documents that really drill down on what worked, how it worked, what didn’t work, and more.  I invite you to read the full reports because they are full of rich information about tactics and the extensive benefits these investments are bringing to communities nationwide.  This information is on our website at www.ntia.doc.gov.  We will be adding a lot more information as it becomes available, so I urge you to check often.

  • The first case study is from Arkansas, where non-profit Connect Arkansas is working to expand broadband access and adoption. Connect Arkansas used its grant to support a range of activities, including digital literacy training for adults and e-commerce entrepreneurship training for high-schoolers.  But since we know one of the largest barriers to adoption is expense, including the up-front cost of equipment, Connect Arkansas created a program called Computers 4 Kids, which provides free, refurbished computers to qualified elementary and high school students after they complete basic digital literacy training. Connect Arkansas also works with ISPs to offer discounted broadband service to low-income families.
  • Another important focus of the Connect Arkansas project is telemedicine training. Connect Arkansas teamed with another BTOP awardee, the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, which is  building a statewide fiber-optic network that is integrating, upgrading, and extending two existing networks used for healthcare, education, and research. The new network, which will reach all 75 counties in Arkansas, is introducing telemedicine to some of the most remote pockets of a heavily rural, medically underserved state. The NTIA grant also paid for telemedicine equipment, including digital stethoscopes and ENT probes with “digicams” that allow doctors to examine patients remotely. Connect Arkansas is providing hands-on training to medical facilities and healthcare professionals to make the most of these new telemedicine capabilities. Previously, 80 percent of the trainees were unfamiliar with telehealth.
  • The second case study we are releasing today highlights the work of the Foundation for California Community Colleges which used a BTOP award to help prepare disadvantaged students for STEM careers. The program, called California Connects, distributed laptops to first-generation college students enrolled in Mathematics, Engineering, and Science Achievement programs at 34 community colleges.  The ASR study found that the project significantly increased student retention rates.  The program also provided Microsoft IT Academy training and access to technical certification exams. Participating students returned to their own communities as trainers who taught others how to navigate Internet job postings, find online healthcare information, and use the Web in other ways to improve their lives. In addition, California Connects worked with the Great Valley Center to effectively provide digital literacy training for low-income Latino communities in an 18-county region in the state’s Central Valley.
  • The third case study takes us to West Virginia, where Future Generations Graduate School took a very creative approach to expanding broadband in its region.  This is one of my favorite BTOP projects because it is so tailored to the communities it serves. In small towns across West Virginia, one of the key gathering spots is the local fire station. So Future Generations put computer centers in 60 local fire departments across the state. It also established digital literacy training programs that reached more than 37,000 residents, including many seniors, veterans, and underemployed people. The project leveraged the computer centers to provide needed training to first responders. This case study is so interesting because of the reach of the project, the variety of participants, and the project’s broad impact on  the community.
  • The final case study we’re releasing today describes the benefits of a broadband grant to the Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University, a historically black university in Tallahassee.  The University is using videoconferencing to provide business development training, with an emphasis on minorities, women, and veterans.  It also expanded its public computer center by adding workstations, increasing connection speeds, and encouraging entrepreneurs to use the center as a launch pad to actually operate their early-stage small businesses.  Others used the training at the public computer centers to obtain certifications, gain business skills, and land jobs.   I was particularly taken by one unexpected benefit of from this project. Because of its state-of-the-art resources, the computer center became a venue for training federal, state, and community agencies.  So now the center has a new line of business itself.

These and other soon-to-be-released case studies show that our broadband grants are delivering enormous benefits to communities across the country. We hope you can use this information to validate the paths that you are on, get ideas for new strategies to try based on what’s worked for others, and even build support for future proposals.  Looking ahead, I want to stress that we want to continue to collaborate with you to bring broadband to our community anchor institutions and ensure that all Americans have the skills to take advantage of this technology.  Let’s work together to advance the President’s ConnectED vision for connecting all K-12 schools and libraries to next -generation broadband, and get the biggest return for our E-rate dollars.  Let’s ensure that our hospitals and medical centers have the bandwidth they need to leverage cutting-edge telemedicine applications and use these applications to deliver vital healthcare services in even the most remote parts of the nation. And let’s spread our lessons learned and best practices so all communities can do the great things you are doing and reap the benefits of broadband.

Thank you very much, and congratulations on another great SHLB conference.