Posted at 2:01 PM
Over the past five years, we at NTIA have seen first-hand through our broadband grant program the power of broadband to transform lives and impact communities. Broadband has become a cornerstone of economic growth, providing Americans the tools they need to participate in the rapidly growing digital economy.
NTIA invested more than $4 billion in grants through the Broadband Technology Opportunities Program to build network infrastructure, establish public computer centers, and develop digital literacy training to expand broadband adoption. Through those projects, we’ve made significant progress. Our grantees have built or upgraded more than 113,000 miles of fiber and connected nearly 25,000 community anchor institutions, such as schools and libraries. Our grantees also have established or upgraded 3,000 public computer centers, trained more than four million people and helped roughly 735,000 households sign up for broadband. An independent study released by NTIA today shows that these grants are projected to increase economic output by as much as $21 billion annually.
But there’s more work to be done. Investing in broadband is a matter of basic equity. Americans who do not have access to the Internet are increasingly cut off from job opportunities, educational resources, healthcare information and even government services. Communities that do not have high-speed infrastructure are increasingly at a disadvantage in attracting new businesses and new jobs and competing in today’s knowledge-based economy. Since 2009, broadband adoption has increased more than 12 percent in the United States and stands at 72 percent according to our latest reported data. That is a healthy growth rate but it still means that almost a quarter of U.S. households are not online at home.
President Obama today is announcing a number of additional steps to help more Americans get access to fast, affordable and reliable broadband. And at NTIA, rest assured that we will remain at the forefront of federal efforts to ensure that all Americans share in the promise and potential of the digital economy. We’ve learned about what works and we’ve heard what communities need. And we’re eager to share the knowledge and expertise we’ve accumulated over the last few years. Today I’m happy to unveil our BroadbandUSA initiative aimed at finding new ways to assist communities seeking to ensure their citizens have the broadband capacity they need to advance economic development, education, health care, and public safety.
As part of BroadbandUSA, we will share the lessons learned and best practices developed by companies, state and local governments, and other organizations that received our grants. We will use everything from toolkits and training programs, to webinars and workshops, to provide technical assistance, funding leads and basic guidance to communities as they grow their broadband capacity and use.
We are also releasing today a new Public Private Partnership primer, which provides a basic introduction to a variety of partnership models for communities considering new broadband projects. The primer provides a high-level overview of steps to establish partnerships, and presents case studies of successful public-private broadband partnerships.
Building on the primer, we are now putting together a toolkit to assist communities that want to increase the level of broadband infrastructure and adoption in their areas. This guide will provide solid and field-tested advice on how to establish effective partnerships, develop useful applications and build projects that will sustain themselves for years to come. It will also include ideas targeting small business.
Next month, we’ll hold our third in a series of regional broadband workshops in Jackson, Mississippi. The workshops are designed bring together stakeholders – including local, state and federal officials, community leaders, industry executives, private foundations and broadband advocates – to discuss the challenges and solutions for communities seeking to expand broadband. We intend to host a series of additional broadband workshops around the country throughout the year.
Another way we are helping communities is through our broadband adoption toolkit, published in 2013, that serves as a reference manual for municipalities and other organizations that want to increase the level of adoption in their communities. The toolkit contains clear, sensible advice, as well as lots of practical ideas and tips, for bringing all sorts of people online – from senior citizens who may never have touched a mouse before to minority populations who might not even speak English.
The bottom line is that we have made important strides in expanding broadband access and adoption but there is still work to be done. And NTIA will be leading the charge.