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The Far Reach of Broadband

Oct 15

Written by: Grants Office, LLC
Saturday, October 15, 2011  RssIcon

By Christopher Haight
October 2011

Devising and implementing a national broadband policy has been a notable priority for the Obama administration. Since including over $7 billion for the expansion of broadband in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, the Obama administration has worked primarily through the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to achieve this goal.

The FCC completed work on the National Broadband Plan in 2010 and has since embarked a number of reforms to implement its suggestions and goals (you can view the plan at http://download.broadband.gov/plan/national-broadband-plan.pdf). The effort to improve broadband access and services is more than just a technology priority, however. Broadband has been viewed as infrastructure necessary to accomplish many other policy aims.

Take the E-Rate program for example. E-Rate is a $2 billion program developed by the FCC that supports schools across the country in acquiring telecommunications services. Schools may apply for discounts ranging from twenty percent to ninety percent off the normal price of eligible services, depending on their location and poverty statistics.

As a part of the National Broadband Plan, the FCC called for reforms and changes to the E-Rate program that would help even more schools gain access to broadband services. These recommendations aimed to "improve flexibility, deployment, and use of infrastructure, improve program efficiency, and foster innovation." One such recommendation was to expand the use of E-Rate funded services to include connectivity to portable learning devices for teachers and students beyond regular school facilities and hours. The FCC implemented this suggestion with a new $9 million program titled E-Rate Deployed Ubiquitously (EDU) 2011 Pilot Program.

Projects announced earlier this year in March are now being implemented across the country. The results from the twenty recipients will inform how the FCC proceeds in evaluating whether to include off-site connectivity in the general E-Rate solicitation each year. Many of the projects support providing students from low-income backgrounds with increased access to new educational technology tools such as digital textbooks, netbooks, or other mobile devices (a complete list of funded applicants and brief descriptions of their projects can be found at http://hraunfoss.fcc.gov/edocs_public/attachmatch/DOC-305088A1.pdf).

While this was primarily a technology consideration, it also helped enable an education reform in expanding learning times and opportunities for students beyond the typical school day, and continued supporting the effective use of technology into K-12 learning.

The same pattern of broadband-enabling holds true for other sectors of the economy as well. In energy, one of the major initiatives championed by the administration and also included in the Recovery Act was the development and implementation of a smart grid. A smart grid aims to increase the efficiency of energy use by integrating improved communications and computer analytics. By making better use of these types of technologies, the hope is to create an electrical grid that can distribute energy more optimally, reliably, and securely. These "smart" innovations, of course, rely on access to many information resources and tools made available primarily through broadband.

This leveraging of national broadband policy to achieve outcomes in other areas suggests broadband remains one of the most influential areas of national policymaking and will continue to impact nearly every sector of the economy.

Categories: Broadband
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