A Stimulus to Broadband Use

A little-known element of the economic recovery bill can help

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.

About the Author

Geoffrey H. Fletcher is the deputy executive director of the State Educational Technology Directors Association (SETDA).


Sat, Jun 29, 2013 Tutt Lambert Loveland, OH

Geoff, Trying to track you down for a Milford Junior High Faculty Reunion for those who served there from 1964-1983. We plan on a dinner at the Terrace Park Country Club on September 21, 2013. Hope to see you then. Response has been good to date. Tutt

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