Broadband Communities

JAN-FEB 2016

BROADBAND COMMUNITIES is the leading source of information on digital and broadband technologies for buildings and communities. Our editorial aims to accelerate the deployment of Fiber-To-The-Home and Fiber-To-The-Premises.

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JANUARY/FEBRUARY 2016 | www.broadbandcommunities.com | BROADBAND COMMUNITIES | 53 more than a little bit of quiet, a clear workspace and a pencil. No more. Today, seven in 10 teachers assign homework that requires Internet access. Kids may be connected in the classroom, but if they are disconnected at home, getting basic schoolwork done is hard. Researching a paper and applying for scholarships and jobs is tough without reliable broadband access. But as the Pew Research Center demonstrates, 5 million American families with students at home go without regular broadband access – and fall into the Homework Gap. Tis is the cruelest part of the new digital divide. We need to bridge this gap and fx this problem because our shared economic future depends on it." A similar reality exists beyond school in the working world. Many employers are moving toward online application submissions, and applicants can struggle to create a résumé or write a compelling cover letter on a mobile phone. SCHOOL AND LIBRARY PROGRAMS To satisfy the need for Internet in the home, the FCC recently reformed and streamlined the critical E-Rate program, which provides discounted telecommunications services to schools and libraries to increase access in these community anchor institutions. In addition, schools and libraries are developing innovative solutions to ensure that students and job seekers have access to fxed broadband services when home Internet is cost prohibitive. For example, the Gwinnett County Public Library in Georgia launched a program called JobSmart, which ofers career development services, resources and programs for job seekers and entrepreneurs. JobSmart provides laptops to check out and use within libraries, which helps job seekers who cannot aford computer hardware or home Internet subscriptions. Understanding that the environment plays a role in productivity, the Chicago Public Library system created the Eliminating Barriers to Access Program, which changed the system's computer use and fne policies, made laptops and software available for public use and relaxed its beverage policy. Tese seemingly small changes create a new standard for how libraries function and can encourage greater use by those who need access. Schools have also taken signifcant steps to meet the shortfall in home broadband access. For example, Decatur City Schools, the public school system in Decatur, Ala., received grants to provide laptops to students. Te system's teachers now have access to digital content, which provides a variety of ways to educate students. Te grants allow teachers to structure classes to ensure that students receive and understand content correctly. Roanoke County Public Schools in Virginia have a 1:1 laptop initiative so students have access to industry-standard software that will qualify them for opportunities such as internships with local fast-growing companies. Te school system also provides online courses so students can earn high school diplomas while working on associate degrees from local community colleges. Tough investment in broadband infrastructure, engagement with the right stakeholders and cost of Internet service are critical to localities' economic development plans, communities cannot ignore the importance of digital literacy as a vital aspect of sustained, long-term growth. At the National League of Cities' 2015 Congress of Cities conference in Nashville, Tenn., thought leaders from business, government, academia and the nonproft sector discussed community strategies to guarantee access and resources for broadband. Proposed solutions ranged from investing fnancial resources in digital literacy programs to working with local stakeholders, such as community development groups and local businesses, to repurposing such existing resources as older computers or community spaces to create cost-efective learning areas for residents. Communities need to be bold and strategic about how to meet their residents' broadband needs. Te old adage "there is no one-size-fts-all solution" is true even in the broadband world, but with some out-of-the-box thinking, communities can create innovative, sustainable approaches to meeting residents' digital literacy needs. v Julia Pulidindi is a broadband analyst for Advantage Engineers, which provides engineering and consulting services for telecommunications and other projects. You can reach her at jpulidindi@advantageengineers.com.

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