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Remarks of Acting Assistant Secretary Rinaldo at the 2019 Carolinas Alliance for Success in Education Summit

November 15, 2019

Remarks of Diane Rinaldo
Acting Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Communications and Information
2019 Carolinas Alliance for Success in Education Summit
Charlotte, N.C.
November 15, 2019

-- As Prepared for Delivery --

Good morning. It’s an honor to be here, and welcome you to the 2019 CASE Summit. We are proud to be partnering with Johnson C. Smith University, and the White House Initiative on Historically Black Colleges and Universities, to bring you today’s program.

I especially want to thank President Clarence Armbrister, Johnathan Holifield, and NTIA’s Francine Alkisswani for making today’s event a reality.

We’re here to support and celebrate the great work being done at HBCUs around the country, and to try and figure out – together – how we can extend that success into surrounding communities.

We all share a common goal: Connect all communities in America to the digital economy.

At NTIA, we take that mission very seriously. America has seen great prosperity because of our leadership in technology, but there are still too many people who don’t have access to broadband, and the digital skills they need to thrive.

Since 1994, NTIA has regularly commissioned the U.S. Census Bureau to conduct surveys on technology use. These surveys consistently show that Americans living in rural communities, and distressed urban communities, are less likely to use the Internet than those living in urban, more prosperous areas.

Our most recent survey, conducted in 2017, shows that in households with incomes under $25,000, only 6 in 10 reported using the Internet at home. African Americans and those who live in rural areas are also less likely to go online than those who are white and living in urban areas.

Many Americans living in rural areas have limited options for broadband services, in contrast to those living in large cities. A recent Federal Communications Commission survey found that a quarter of rural Americans – nearly 17 million people – live in places that lack sufficient broadband availability.

We want to help fix this, and we believe that HBCUs have a vital role to play.

This is why NTIA is launching its Minority Broadband Initiative. The idea behind this initiative grew out of last year’s CASE summit, which focused on connecting campuses to communities through broadband.

As a first step, we want to build a broader working relationship with HBCUs. Together, we will develop a comprehensive strategy for expanding broadband Internet availability, and adoption, in your surrounding communities.

We also want to make sure that HBCUs have a seat at the table when decisions are being made about the deployment of next-generation wireless networks. To make this happen, we will partner with federal agencies, local governments, and the private sector.

We want to think big, and explore all options for using broadband infrastructure investment as a catalyst that can lead to greater job growth and economic development. NTIA will seek to increase HBCU participation in broadband stakeholder organizations and programs, and increase awareness of grant opportunities.

Our initiative complements the White House Initiative on HBCUs, which helps these institutions compete for opportunities in national and global markets.

Among America’s institutions, HBCUs have a unique role in our history. For more than a century, these institutions have been serving their students and their communities, building a rich tradition of scholarship, achievement and purpose.

HBCUs generate nearly $15 billion in economic impact each year, according to a recent report, and they generate more than 130,000 jobs for their local economies. They not only drive major economic activity, but they are also an integral component of the broadband ecosystem. 

As our society becomes more digital and more connected, HBCUs have the potential to build on that role. NTIA is committed to helping realize that potential.

The model that underpins the Minority Broadband Initiative is one we know well.

In 2015, NTIA launched the BroadbandUSA program to help communities around the country with their broadband expansion plans. BroadbandUSA works with public and private sector partners to assess local broadband needs and gaps; identify possible funding mechanisms and other resources; and plan network infrastructure projects.

BroadbandUSA has provided support to more than 1,000 communities across the country through its regional events, networking meetings, and technical assistance activities. 

We also convene workshops, monthly webinars and virtual meetings to educate stakeholders, including community anchor institutions, with information that can improve broadband planning and partnerships. For instance, in April we convened a webinar on HBCU educational programs designed to train the next generation of cybersecurity professionals to meet the huge needs of this growing segment of our workforce.

Our State Broadband Leaders Network includes representatives from 46 states with active broadband programs. This network provides a forum for state leaders who work on broadband initiatives to share priorities and best practices; discuss technology policy issues; and address barriers to collaboration across states and agencies.

NTIA has been a strong advocate for the importance of anchor institutions in getting communities connected. Schools, libraries, hospitals and similar institutions are among the largest employers in their communities, and they create considerable demand for broadband. That demand can often be leveraged to build an economic case for providers to extend services to surrounding communities.

Our initiative will aim to use broadband infrastructure investment as a catalyst that could result in job growth and economic development, as well as deployment of advanced mobile technologies in economically distressed communities.

Everything NTIA does to promote broadband expansion would benefit from HBCU voices. 

This is only the beginning of what we hope will be a productive and long-lasting partnership. If you have ideas, we want to hear from you. Our goal is to develop a set of policy recommendations to support HBCU efforts to expand broadband.

We can do great things together. I am excited to work with you to help all Americans benefit from our connected future.