Schools make their case for broadband grants

The economic stimulus package allocated $7.2 billion in total funding for broadband projects.
The economic stimulus package allocated $7.2 billion in total funding for broadband projects.

Colleges and universities have applied for tens of millions of dollars in federal stimulus grants designed to expand broadband internet access, arguing that university IT infrastructure makes campuses worthy recipients.

The government announced in August that an initial $4 billion in stimulus loans and grants will be used to connect rural homes to the internet, stimulate interest in getting internet service among groups that don’t use it much, and expand internet access in public locations such as schools and libraries. More than 2,200 applicants asked for a total of $28 billion in broadband funds during this initial application process–roughly seven times the amount available. Most of the applications proposed building out internet lines to bring broadband access to rural American towns and cities.

The National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) and the Rural Utilities Service will pick the winning applicants and announce them in November.

A review of colleges and universities that applied for federal broadband grant money showed many campuses vying to provide more computers with broadband web access to local residents, and other schools hoping to establish wide-ranging cloud-computing networks.

The Research Foundation of the State University of New York (SUNY) requested the largest higher-ed related grant, asking for $30 million to implement an educational and workforce training program run through a cloud-computing network. Cloud computing lets users access data, applications, and computer programs over a network via large server centers.

The $30 million would be used to purchases hardware and software for an expansive cloud-computing network, curriculum to educate students and workers, and delivery of “community-based educational training programs” to schools and libraries. The application said the program would focus on underrepresented populations.

“It will concurrently increase the ‘supply’ of knowledge-based workers capable of supporting the design, deployment, utilization, and management of the ‘enabling’ cloud-computing software architecture, hardware infrastructure, and service delivery,” according to SUNY’s grant application.

The SUNY project would cost $57 million over two years. New York state would provide $15 million, IBM would contribute $10 million, about $2 million would come from endowments, and the rest–if the grant money is approved–would come from the federal government.

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act directs NTIA to make at least $250 million available for programs that encourage sustainable adoption of broadband services, of which up to $150 million will be allocated in this first round of grants.
The stimulus act directs the agency to make at least $200 million available for expanding the capacity of public computer centers, of which up to $50 million will be allocated in the first round.

Though competition appears stiff for the first round of financing, those who lose out will have two more rounds in which to compete before the money runs out. The stimulus allocated $7.2 billion in total funding for broadband projects. (Because some of this money will be used to fund loans, the total dollar amount handed out will be higher than that.)

Denny Carter

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