A Stimulus to Broadband Use
A little-known element of the economic recovery bill can help
- By Geoffrey H. Fletcher
I JUST SPENT HALF a day on the Organization for Economic Cooperation and
Development website (OECD). Specifically, I was looking at the
nearly 50 charts and graphs showing comparisons among countries on all
things broadband, from total subscribers to percentage of fiber connections.
I was researching a little-known component of the American Recovery and
Reinvestment Act: the Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP).
The program provides for $7.2 billion in grants and loans for broadband
initiatives, to meet the information needs of people throughout the country,
especially in rural areas. In Ed Market Lookout,
the new online information service from T.H.E. Journal publisher 1105 Media,
broadband business planning consultant Alice Taylor writes that up to 10,000
grants will be awarded-- at least one in every state-- and “educational institutions
and their vendor partners are in a front-of-the-pack position to benefit
from the initiative. Schools, libraries, colleges, and community centers are
singled out in the legislation as potentially prime receivers of 'broadband
education, awareness, training, access, equipment, and support' to enable
them to 'facilitate greater use of broadband services' in their communities.”
The grant program is being administered by the National Telecommunications
and Information Administration within the Department of
Commerce, and the Rural Utilities Service within the Department
of Agriculture. However, education is also at the table, according
to Jenelle Leonard, director of school support and technology
programs at the Department of Education, who says that the
DOE is represented at weekly BTOP meetings among commerce,
agriculture, and other interested agencies.
How great is our need for expanding broadband throughout the
country? According to the OECD, as of June 2008, the US
ranks 19th worldwide with 25 broadband subscribers
per 100 inhabitants; Denmark leads with 36.7
subscribers per 100 inhabitants. We are 14th in
advertised download speed, behind such technology
juggernauts as Portugal, which sits in eighth
place. It isn't because we're cheaper:
We rank 13th in average subscription price.
Rural areas-- and urban and suburban as
well-- are crying out for broadband. And with
the growth of technology use in education,
and the increasing demand for digital content in
general and bandwidth-eating applications like movie
clips and other rich media, schools will need even
more bandwidth-- and they need it now. The BTOP
can't be implemented soon enough.
Geoffrey H. Fletcher is the deputy executive director of the State Educational Technology Directors Association (SETDA).