Schools, Libraries, Hospitals Should be Top Priority for Broadband Funds

Posted by Marc Berejka 
Senior Director, Technology Policy & Strategy
originally posted April 23, 2009.

Update 5/21/09: For the past four years Don Means has been a pioneer in the effort to bring the benefits of broadband Internet access to more Americans.   Specifically, Don and his organization, the Community TeleStructure Initiative, have been working through the details of building high-speed links to community facilities around the country.

 As Google’s Richard Whitt explains in a blog post, Don’s efforts received a nice plug today during a forum hosted by the Information Technology & Innovation Foundation.  As the post explains, Don’s “Fiber to the Library” program seeks to provide high-speed data connections to each of the nation’s 16,548 public libraries.   The estimated cost?  About $20,000, per library, according to Don’s calculations. 

We agree that would be money well spent. 


From 4/23/09:  It’s been nearly a decade since Bill Clinton unveiled his plan to “bridge the digital divide and create new opportunity for all Americans.” Since then, government and private industry have made considerable progress extending the reach of the World Wide Web.  Yet, in many communities the same challenge remains: How do we harness the Internet to deliver economic and social benefits to all segments of the population, in all parts of the country?

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, signed by President Obama in February, will help.  The bill provides $7 billion to expand broadband Internet access in the U.S.  That’s a lot of money, but as the Federal Communications Commission has pointed out, it’s not enough to wire every home in the nation

Instead, we believe the country can get the biggest bang for the connectivity buck by using that $7 billion to ensure that each and every one of the nation’s schools, libraries and hospitals are wired for fast and affordable broadband Internet access. This is essential to achieve President Obama’s goal of modernizing our education and healthcare systems, and this is the approach we urged in comments to the FCC and other agencies that are developing a strategy for national broadband deployment.

High-speed Internet access would enable teachers and students in schools like the Galileo Magnet High School in rural Danville, Va., to use some of the same cutting-edge materials as their peers at the Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology in Alexandria, Va., the top-ranked high school in the country, according to U.S. News and World Report. With broadband Internet access, a class in St. Petersburg, Fla. could collaborate with pen pals in St. Petersburg, Russia, on a history project about their two countries.

Likewise, extending broadband data pipes to hospitals and health clinics in rural and small-town America would enable doctors to use telemedicine to obtain consults from specialists in distant cities, and patients with multiple doctors could more easily share electronic health records to get better care. Parents away on business trips or deployed overseas could participate in their childrens’ medical check-ups via video and voice connections.

There is not enough stimulus money to supply a broadband connection to every home, but using government funds to link every school, library and hospital will accelerate the rate at which the benefits of this important technology can be spread throughout the country.

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