Coming soon: National broadband service
Grants from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) are funding the creation of new broadband Internet infrastructure nationwide. That connectivity will not just benefit the residents of communities who have been unable to access the web, but it also will make it easier for local governments to provide services.
In August, $1.8 billion in ARRA grants were awarded to 94 projects to expand broadband services in communities through a program administered by the Department of Commerce's National Telecommunications and Information Administration and the Department of Agriculture's Rural Utilities Service. The ARRA funding for broadband indicates increasing federal support for extending broadband infrastructure to residents who, for various reasons, do not have Internet access, says Alan Shark, executive director of the Washington-based Public Technology Institute (PTI). And, that will greatly benefit cities and counties, he says. Public safety agencies will be better able to communicate with residents, and local governments, which rely heavily on a "mobile workforce," will save money by allowing some employees to work from home.
Offering online services saves local governments money by reducing labor costs incurred by having government employees respond to requests for help, Shark says, so it benefits cities to ensure that more people have access. "If we're pushing more of our services online, there's got to be an expectation that we have to figure out how to get more people to be able to use that," he says.
The Tampa (Fla.) Housing Authority received one of the grants issued in August and will use it to install Internet service and computers in 119 units initially. "The goal is to have all of our properties connected to the broadband system," says the authority's Public Relations Director Lillian Stringer.
Along with benefits to residents, such as access to online education, Stringer says the city will benefit, too. "We'll have more residents with access to the services that [the city] provides, [such as] social services [and] job opportunities," Stringer says. The broadband service also will improve the residents' employability.
However, Shark says the federal interest in broadband infrastructure must go beyond the ARRA. "I think we're finding that [broadband infrastructure] is not cheap, and this [ARRA funding] does not go far enough," he says. "But, it was the best we could do at that moment in time."