Schools make their case for broadband grants

Clarkson University in Potsdam, N.Y., is one of many schools hoping to use stimulus broadband funds to establish public computer centers in areas where residents have little or no access to high-speed internet service. The university is requesting $950,590 to build computing centers in 10 local communities, an important step in creating more than 2,000 “wired workers”–entrepreneurs who conduct their business online–by 2019.

The computer centers, which would be spread throughout the Adirondack North Country area, also could become meeting places for business owners and employees using high-speed internet to bolster outreach.

“Small business owners and entrepreneurs will find workshops and professional development opportunities aimed at helping them leverage the power of broadband to grow their businesses in a sustainable manner,” Clarkson’s federal application says. “As an important part of developing the culture of ‘wired work,’ the centers will serve as ‘digital water coolers’ allowing workers to network, collaborate, and exchange ideas.”

The public computing centers each would have six “all-in-one” workstations–complete with a fax, scanner, copier, conference phone, and wireless projector–with technical support staff on hand as well.

Clarkson University’s application said the Adirondack region has seen a “slow decline” since industry has left the area since the late-1970s, and bringing broadband access to residents and local businesses could be “transformational.”

Some campus officials point out in their federal funding proposals that the grant money would create jobs and give a boost to sluggish local economies.

A $21.6 million grant application submitted by the University of Alaska Statewide Office of Information Technology proposes greater broadband access in Alaska’s community colleges, libraries, and tribal government facilities. Expanding high-speed web access would require new workers for construction and renovation, as well as staffing of public computer centers, the application notes.

Federal officials are set to announce the grant winners next month, as research shows the United States is falling behind other industrialized nations in broadband accessibility. A report released by the Communications Workers of America (CWA) last summer said America’s internet connection speed ranked 28th in the world.

The CWA report said the average download speed in South Korea is 20.4 megabits per second (Mbps)–four times faster than the U.S. average of 5.1 Mbps. Japan trails South Korea with an average of 15.8 Mbps, followed by Sweden at 12.8 Mbps and the Netherlands at 11.0 Mbps, the report said, adding that tests conducted by found the average U.S. download speed had improved by only nine-tenths of a megabit per second between 2008 and 2009.

Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.


Federal broadband grant applicants=

National Telecommunications and Information Administration

Communication Workers of America