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NTIA’s BroadbandUSA Work Complementing ConnectHome Initiative

On Wednesday, President Obama travelled to Durant, Oklahoma, where he announced ConnectHome — a plan to bring high-speed broadband Internet to low-income housing in 27 cities and one Native American tribal community. ConnectHome is just one component of a broader Administration initiative to expand broadband and close the digital divide, and NTIA is playing a critical role in that effort.

Working to expand broadband access and adoption is a core mission of NTIA.  And for the past six years through our broadband grant program, we’ve been working with communities across the country to build high-speed networks in our most rural villages, set up computer labs in inner-city housing projects, teach critical digital literacy skills to people who may never have turned on a computer before, and so much more. 

In Oklahoma where President Obama made his announcement, NTIA’s Broadband Technology Opportunity Program (BTOP) funded two infrastructure projects, built by Pine Telephone and the State of Oklahoma, which are playing an integral role in providing broadband to the Choctaw Nation. The projects are partners in the ConnectHome initiative to serve Choctaw public housing residences.

Pine Telephone used its $9.5 million dollar grant to deliver affordable wireless broadband service to the predominantly unserved tribal lands of the Choctaw Nation located in rural, southeastern Oklahoma.   In addition to serving residents, the project serves 22 community anchor institutions, including six K-12 schools and 16 public safety sites.  For the ConnectHome initiative, Pine Telephone was selected by the Choctaw Nation as one of four broadband providers that will work together to serve the public housing residences.

The State of Oklahoma, using a $74 million dollar BTOP grant, built a fiber optic, middle-mile network (Oklahoma Community Anchor Network) to rural and underserved communities across the state. Part of this middle-mile infrastructure was built to and in Durant, Oklahoma (part of the Choctaw nation footprint) and has partnered with the providers that are implementing the ConnectHome program to the Choctaw Nation.

We’re proud of the work that’s being carried on by our broadband grantees.     But even as the BTOP program officially comes to a close in September, we know much more work needs to be done to close the digital divide.  Through our BroadbandUSA initiative, we’re leveraging the expertise we developed through these projects to continue to help other communities work through challenges as they look to expand their broadband offerings. The BroadbandUSA program is providing resources – including technical assistance, toolkits and guides – to help communities assess local broadband needs, engage stakeholders, explore business models, evaluate financing options and attract private-sector investment. We are also convening a series of regional workshops that are bringing together local government, industry and community leaders to study the broadband challenges they face and explore potential solutions. Stay tuned for more details about our next workshop September 28 in Portland, Maine. We look forward to working closely with the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) in their future efforts to bring broadband to public housing projects.

NTIA is also spearheading the Department of Commerce’s efforts on the President’s Broadband Opportunity Council (BOC).  Established in March, the BOC is an interagency working group aimed at promoting broadband investment and coordinating broadband policy across the federal government. The BOC includes 25 federal agencies and departments that are exploring how the Executive Branch can better support the needs of communities seeking broadband investment. It will also help identify regulatory barriers unduly impeding broadband deployment, adoption or competition, and recommend steps to remove such barriers. A final report will be presented to the President in August.

At NTIA, we’ve seen first-hand how broadband can revitalize communities and change lives.  We’re excited to see what’s ahead as we work to ensure that no American is left behind in the digital revolution.