Today marks the launch of the second -and final- round of applications for the Broadband Initiatives Program (BIP) and the Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP): two initiatives within the Recovery Act that collectively represent what Obama called the "single largest new investment in our national infrastructure since the creation of the Federal Highway System in the 1950s."
Organizations working to close the digital divide and ensure that low-income communities have equal access to the internet face an unprecedented opportunity to leverage these public funds to expand their work. The guidelines for applying for expanding Infrastructure, Public Computing Centers, and Broadband Awareness & Adoption were posted last week, and collectively make available billions of dollars in an unprecedented move to follow-through on Obama's promise that "here, in the country that invented the internet, every child should have the chance to get online."
On Jan 29th 2010, the NTIA and RUS visited Denver as part of their 10-city workshop series, designed to "promote an open dialogue on matters important to the National Broadband Plan." The workshop sessions are a valuable resource for would-be applicants, and can be viewed here and here.
To help expand awareness, and encourage more applicants, especially in the nonprofit sector, the Open Media Foundation partnered with the Media & Democracy Coalition to host an informational session on Jan 27th. Broadcast live on Denver Open Media, the session introduced a number of proposals from Colorado nonprofits, such as the Board of Cooperative Educational Services, the Denver Public Library, The Open Media Foundation (openmediafoundation.org), and the Colorado State Governor's Office of IT. The event closed with a brief panel and Q&A with me, John Conley, Director of the Colorado Statewide Internet Portal Authority, and Ken Fellman, President of the National Association of Telecommunications Officers & Advisors (NATOA).
The event highlighted the opportunity these programs represent to help change the way our society communicates, and to engage disadvantaged communities on a level that has never been possible before. The Denver Public Library discussed their first round application and plans to expand their vision for a second-round attempt. We at the Open Media Foundation presented our proposal, aimed at what the Pew Research Center finds to be the primary factor preventing disconnected communities from using broadband: a perception that the internet is not relevant to their lives.
Its no mystery that commercial media organizations, designed to connect advertisers to consumers, would fail to convey that relevance. A pure market-driven approach will always favor messages and perspectives that appeal to affluent audiences. So, if we want our social dialogue to include all communities, we can't rely on corporations designed to make a profit. Corporations will never invest in populations that lack the collective buying-power to provide a good return on that investment. We hope to work with over 20 community media organizations to support a discussion of broadband's relevance from the perspectives of individuals within disconnected communities.
In this second round, it is our hope that more organizations from the Nonprofit Sector and Public Sector will step-forward and propose strong plans to engage unserved and underserved communities. A wealth of resources are available in this second round that were not accessible for the first Notice of Funds Availability. Review the NOFA2 FAQ's, and use BroadbandMatch, the invaluable "dating site" developed to help potential applicants find partners and improve their proposals.
Organizations like the New America Foundation have helped to distill official documents and summarize meetings with NTIA staff to present strategic information for creating competitive proposals. Sascha Meinrath of the New America Foundation suggests applicants build alliances and "ensure that they have both the capacity and expertise to craft a competitive application." With their launch of the Open Technology Initiative, the New America Foundation has developed some of the best tools around to support public interest organizations looking to take this opportunity to help change the future of our information landscape.