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Digital Divide News

August 08, 2003

TOP Reauthorized and To Grow, Says Senate Commerce Committee

The Technology Opportunities Program (TOP), a highly-competitive, merit-based grant program for stimulating digital network technologies in the U.S., might survive after all. The Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation adopted S. 1478 on July 31, reauthorizing the National Telecommunications Information Administration (NTIA) for four years and effectively restoring funding for TOP. Under the reauthorization act, NTIA would receive $18.9 million in 2004 and $21.2 million annually by FY 2008. TOP, which was proposed for elimination by the Bush Administration, would receive $15.9 million in FY 2004, $16.3 million in FY 2005 and $17.9 million in FY 2008.

TOP awards matching grants to public and nonprofit organizations to demonstrate practical applications of telecommunications and information technologies and is managed by NTIA. To date, TOP has awarded 555 grants totaling $204.9 million and leveraging $282 million in local matching funds.

Illinois Loosens Grip on $11M Fund to Eliminate Digital Divide

Illinois took a new step toward eliminating its Digital Divide in rural communities when Gov. Rod Blagojevich signed Senate Bill 553 on July 30. The new law, which became effective immediately, makes it easier for technology providers to access grants from the Digital Divide Elimination Infrastructure Fund by changing the eligibility requirements. Under the new law, high-speed Internet providers can obtain a subsidy on the cost of building the necessary transmission facilities.

The Infrastructure Fund was established as part of Illinois' telecommunications reform package passed in 2001 and was intended to subsidize the construction of high-speed Internet service or advanced telecommunications infrastructure in rural areas of the state. However, the original eligibility requirements were too restrictive — only companies that had been waived of the responsibility for providing advanced telecommunications services could apply. As a result, no grants have been released since the fund's creation.

By the end of next year, a total of $11 million will have been allocated for the fund from money collected from SBC by the Illinois Commerce Commission.

Indiana Study Surfaces Islands of Connectivity

A statewide study evaluating Indiana's telecommunications infrastructure and level of technology adoption reveals the Hoosier State has "islands" of connectivity. Indiana Interconnect finds Indianapolis ranks 12th among the most-wired U.S. cities and central Indiana, with 80 percent broadband connectivity, compares favorably on a national scale. However, just 71 percent of Indiana's northern residents and 41 percent of its southern residents have broadband access, according to the study. Indiana Interconnect was conducted by the Indiana Economic Development Council, a public-private partnership, and sponsored by the Central Indiana Corporate Partnership. It is available at http://www.iedc.org/telecom/.

Michigan Legislature Approves $39M for Program Expansion

The $39 million recently approved by the Michigan Legislature for Freedom to Learn, a program that gives Michigan's students access to high-tech learning tools, may mean laptop computers for all of the state's 132,000 sixth-graders. Freedom to Learn was conceived in 2002 by the legislature, with a goal of funding demonstration sites that would implement fully wireless computing solutions. Those sites were named in November 2002. Now, the vision for the program is to expand it to all students in grades 6-12 by 2008. Freedom to Learn is jointly administered by the Michigan Department of Education and Michigan Virtual University, with the assistance of a 32-member statewide advisory group.

California Foundation Awards $1.8M in Grants

The Community Technology Foundation of California (CTFC) recently approved grants totaling $1.89 million to address, in part, the Digital Divide in the state's underserved communities. CTFC, incorporated in 1998, promotes social justice, access and equity through community technology. Drawn from CTFC's 10-year, $50 million SBC/PacBell Fund, the grants will aid California nonprofits in increasing knowledge of and access to assistive technology and disability resources. The grants target the state's low-income seniors, disabled, immigrant, limited English proficient, inner city and rural populations. A complete listing of grantees is available at: http://zerodivide.org/grants/grantee2003