Obama Administration Aims to Empower Communities to Attract Broadband Investment and Promote Meaningful Use

A plan to empower communities with tools and resources to attract broadband investment and promote meaningful use

Earlier this week, the Broadband Opportunity Council issued a report and recommendations on expanding broadband deployment and adoption. We’re looking at sections of recommendations all week.

Today, we look at the actions the Council believes will empower communities with tools and resources to attract broadband investment and promote meaningful use. The Council outlines an action plan around five areas:

  1. Best practices, technical assistance and a one-stop portal for broadband resources to support local governments and anchor institutions
  2. A community connectivity index;
  3. Dig Once” policies;
  4. Address broadband challenges on Tribal Lands; and
  5. Supporting broadband adoption and promoting meaningful technology use.

I. Agencies will develop best practices, provide technical assistance and create a one-stop portal for broadband resources to support local governments and anchor institutions.

Department of Commerce

  • Provide a one-stop portal to access information about Federal broadband programs: the National Telecommunications and Information Administration’s BroadbandUSA initiative will create a portal to serve as the main client access point for Federal broadband resources. Functionality will include a list of Council committed Agency actions with status on implementation; links to Agency policies and grant guidance related to broadband; best practice guides; technical assistance briefs; Agency and program points-of-contact; and a list of Frequently Asked Questions. Program and content responsibility will remain with the originating Agencies. This effort will help to institutionalize the work of the Council, by making available a summary of Federal programs that support broadband investment and providing visibility to Agency commitments.
  • Offer best practices and technical assistance for communities seeking to expand broadband: BroadbandUSA will develop and release best practice publications to support community broadband infrastructure, adoption, digital literacy programs and economic development. In conjunction, BroadbandUSA will provide technical assistance to local and regional communities developing broadband infrastructure and adoption projects, offering services designed to accelerate and advance these projects. BroadbandUSA will also collaborate with other Federal Agencies to support broadband-related initiatives and programs.

Department of Health and Human Service

  • Launch series of national connectivity workshops for community health organizations: HHS will promote the use of broadband for healthcare organizations and consumers and work with other Federal Agencies to develop plans to upgrade broadband at health facilities. HHS will provide assistance to health organizations seeking funds for broadband expansion through a series of national and state workshops offered in partnership with the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC), Federal Communications Commission (FCC), Department of Commerce (DOC), and the Department of Agriculture (USDA). The goal of this work is to encourage participants to develop plans and complete applications to secure upgraded broadband connectivity.

Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS)

  • Provide libraries with tools to assess and manage broadband networks: IMLS will fund a new initiative to develop a network assessment toolkit and technical assistance program for rural and Tribal libraries. These libraries provide critical public access to computers and the Internet with support and training from professionals, but many have inadequate connectivity and Wi-Fi. The toolkit will help libraries configure, modify and manage their networks. After piloting in 30 rural and Tribal communities, an expanded rollout will be considered.
  • Offer technical assistance for library broadband connectivity expansions: IMLS will fund a new initiative to develop best practices and expand technical support for e-Rate-funded public library Wi-Fi and connectivity expansions. The technical assistance program will support libraries in assessing connectivity needs, procuring efficient and competitive broadband services and completing e-Rate applications. This initiative will be implemented in partnership with state library agencies to ensure that library information services and free public access points are available to all.

Appalachian Regional Commission

  • Focus technical assistance on broadband deployment in Appalachia: In order to improve application quality and support grantees in completing ambitious broadband projects, the ARC will expand outreach and technical support associated with the $20 million special allocation to help improve rural broadband access in distressed coal- impacted communities in Kentucky, Tennessee and West Virginia and the 13-state Appalachian Region.

II. The Executive Branch will convene stakeholders to design and launch a community connectivity index.

National Telecommunications and Information Administration and the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy

  • NTIA, with support from the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) and National Economic Council (NEC), will convene a series of stakeholder forums to develop an index program that encourages advancements and investments in community connectivity. Stakeholders will include private, public, philanthropic and nonprofit groups with interests in leveraging broadband to support innovation, economic growth and digital inclusion. The index program will identify indicators of community connectivity in a range of categories related to broadband deployment, competition, and adoption, such as average broadband speed and adoption rates, local/regional policies that support broadband, digital inclusion policies, public access points and online applications such as telehealth, digital learning or e-government.

The index would help community leaders understand where their strengths lie and where they need to improve, and would promote innovative community policies and programs. The goals of the index program are to:

  1. Provide a framework and tools for communities to learn about the factors that influence a community’s connectivity;
  2. Mobilize community action and coordination to improve connectivity;
  3. Encourage and recognize innovative policies and programs; and
  4. Attract economic development and investment.

The stakeholder community will determine the criteria and measures. The Executive Branch will provide convening support and explore partnerships to create, support and sustain the program.

III. Federal Agencies that fund significant infrastructure investments will work together to further promote “Dig Once” policies.

“Dig Once” policies promote broadband competition, reduce costs for broadband providers and decrease road-related costs from repeated excavation. The Department of Transportation (DOT) has already taken actions to promote “Dig Once” policies, including developing best practices and model policies and disseminating them to state departments of transportation and other stakeholders. To build on the work of DOT and further promote “Dig Once” policies, the Department of the Interior (DOI), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), General Services Administration (GSA), USDA, DOC and the Department of Housing and Urban Development will, in partnership with DOT:

  1. Review Agency regulations to assess if there are changes that would facilitate and/or promote “Dig Once” policies for State and Local governments.
  2. Develop, publish and disseminate best practices documents and models to stakeholders; and explore opportunities to provide technical assistance and expertise to interested State, Local and Tribal governments and recipients of Federal construction support.
  3. Review existing notification systems for Federally supported construction projects and identify opportunities to promote increased levels of information and visibility to Local and Tribal governments, utilities and broadband and communications service providers to facilitate practical project-level coordination between project sponsors and broadband providers.
  4. Ensure that agencies with Federal land stewardship responsibilities lead by example in implementing “Dig Once” policies which encourage broadband competition and deployment, including planning, joint use, construction and notification.

IV. Federal Agencies, working in conjunction with Native American leaders and led by DOI, will work to address broadband challenges on Tribal Lands.

Department of Interior (DOI)

  • Conduct a Native American summit on broadband in Indian Country: DOI, in conjunction with other Federal Agencies, will conduct outreach to Tribes to plan and convene a Native American Broadband Summit to provide opportunities for the White House Council on Native American Affairs, Broadband Opportunity Council members and representatives from Federally-recognized tribes to review the current status of connectivity in Indian Country and discuss approaches to improve broadband access and adoption. The forum will provide an opportunity to develop inter-agency and inter-governmental actions to improve connectivity on Tribal lands and among Native American people. A Summit Report will be developed highlighting results, actions and intended next steps. Agencies supporting this effort include: FCC, Department of Homeland Security (DHS), Department of Education, Department of Commerce, Department of Housing and Urban Development, Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS), and USDA.
  • The DOI Bureau of Indian Education (BIE) will work with the White House Council on Native American Affairs, other Federal Agencies and the Educational Native American Network (ENAN) to increase broadband connectivity and educational support at schools throughout Indian Country. This action will leverage resources and programs such as ConnectED, BroadbandUSA, RUS Telecommunications and Distance Learning Grants and new e-Rate regulations to develop and implement a plan to increase connectivity at Tribal Schools. All actions will be implemented through ENAN, which provides standards-based connectivity, security, content delivery, web services, distance learning, email access, education application access and other information services to BIE schools. In addition to supporting educational outcomes, high-speed connections at schools can support broader plans to increase broadband access in Tribal Lands. The following Agencies will support this effort: Department of Commerce, Department of Education, HUD's Indian Community Development Block Grant Program, IMLS and USDA.

Department of Labor

  • Expand technology-based job training in tribal communities: DOL Employment Training Administration will provide information on the Rural Utilities Service (RUS) Distance Learning and Telemedicine (DLT) and Community Connect grant programs to its Indian and Native American Program grantees. This information will reach over 125 grantees across the country, helping them to deliver online services to their customers. IMLS will also promote RUS grant information to their Native American Library and Museum Services grantees.

V. Federal Agencies, working with partners, will support broadband adoption and promote meaningful technology use.

Department of House and Urban Development

  • Fund educational navigators in HUD-assisted housing to facilitate broadband adoption: HUD will issue a new grant opportunity to fund “educational navigators” in HUD-assisted housing to expand access to high quality education resources and assist residents with broadband access and adoption questions. An estimated $2 million in funding will be available for these competitive grants, which will be awarded to approximately 3 Public Housing Authorities (PHAs) over a 3-year period. The PHAs will designate which HUD-assisted housing developments they will serve.

Department of Education

  • Expand technology-enabled learning practices to new partner Agencies: The Department of Education will build on its Future Ready Schools work by providing additional technical assistance and support to schools that have taken the Future Ready pledge. Technical assistance will include topics such as infrastructure, professional development and open educational resources. The Department of Education will collaborate with other Federal Agencies to expand the reach of the program to DOI’s Tribal and rural community stakeholders, participants in HUD’s ConnectHome demonstration program and DOL’s adult learning programs. Future Ready Schools provides districts, schools and communities with a clear path to building the necessary vision and capacity to use technology to improve learning. The following Agencies will support this effort: the Department of Interior, HUD, and Department of Labor.

General Services Administration (GSA)

  • Modernize government donation, excess and surplus program: GSA will lead an interagency effort to recommend updates to EO 1299961 and the Computers for Learning program with the objective of updating equipment definitions and enabling additional user groups to receive surplus equipment. The donation program promotes recycling of surplus equipment while making devices available to support schools, libraries and educational non-profits. The following Agencies will support this effort: IMLS, NTIA.
  • Through targeted consumer campaigns using printed publications and websites, GSA will educate citizens, especially low-connectivity populations, on the benefits of broadband adoption. NTIA’s BroadbandUSA will take the lead in creating content for these publications. Material on the benefits of broadband adoption will be provided through GSA’s English and Spanish print publications, which reach over 300,000 people.

Small Business Administration (SBA)

  • Develop and deploy new digital empowerment training for small businesses: SBA will develop new training modules to support small businesses in using broadband-based applications and services to conduct better market research, improve operations and efficiency, and strengthen marketing and sales. SBA’s Office of Entrepreneurial Development will distribute materials to SBA field offices including more than 900 Small Business Development Centers (SBDCs), 100 Women's Business Centers (WBCs) and 16 Veterans Centers. Materials will also be made available at 14 RUS Regional Centers through a partnership with USDA and through the BroadbandUSA portal.

The four overarching recommendations of the Council are:

  1. Modernize Federal programs to expand program support for broadband investments.
  2. Empower communities with tools and resources to attract broadband investment and promote meaningful use.
  3. Promote increased broadband deployment and competition through expanded access to Federal assets.
  4. Improve data collection, analysis and research on broadband.

We'll be back tomorrow to look at the recommendation to promote increased broadband deployment and competition through expanded access to Federal assets.

By Kevin Taglang.