TMCnews Featured Article
October 20, 2009
How One Broadband Stimulus Grant Could Bring Video Conferencing, Jobs and Happiness to West Virginia
By Michael Dinan, TMCnet Editor
An official with a Charleston, W.Va.-based public agency that helps state citizens raise their job prospects through education – a group that’s seeking a $2.1 million grant from the federal government through the broadband stimulus program – told TMCnet in an interview that the system for applications likely wasn’t designed to handle the volume of applicants received.
According to Robert Fernatt, information system manager for WorkForce West Virginia, the government’s receiving servers were slow and unavailable for periods of time.
“The administrators of the grant, to their credit, recognized these problems and extended the deadline,” Fernatt told TMCnet in an interview, printed in full below. “In the future, a more scalable design for submissions should be considered for just such a problem.”
Workforce West Virgnia is seeking funds to enhance and expand public-use computers, connection speeds, and wireless capabilities at 20 WorkForce West Virginia One-Stop offices throughout the state. The proposed enhancements are expected to bolster broadband access to partner organizations and customers, including the unemployed, disabled, veterans, youth, the aged and low income individuals.
Fernatt told TMCnet that the funds would be used to modernize computers in 20 field locations, including for video conferencing equipment that could used to help disabled people communicate.
“Video conferencing can be a great enabler for rural areas where the public cannot readily obtain a medical consultation or see family members that are serving in the military or have moved to another state,” Fernatt said. “The equipment proposed to serve the disabled covers many disabilities ranging from vision impairment to those who have trouble sitting or standing due to physical limitations.”
TMCnet: We've read the Executive Summary of your application, and clearly the organization feels there's a strong need for funding. Take us a little bit beyond the numbers. How will U.S. citizens, consumers and businesses benefit if you're awarded this grant money?
Robert Fernatt: As a state government agency, WorkForce West Virginia is primarily interested in getting West Virginia citizens back to work in sustainable employment. The agency works with several vulnerable populations including the disabled, veterans, low income, and, of course, the unemployed. The dollars being requested through the federal Broadband Technology Opportunities Program will be used to modernize the existing computer centers in each of our 20 field locations and provide a true broadband experience for clients. Our foremost mission is to provide career guidance and readiness services and a modern computer center with broadband speed can supply the bandwidth necessary to energize educational and training programs within our locations. In addition to bringing a modern computing experience to our centers, we also propose to provide video conferencing and equipment for the disabled in each site. Video conferencing can be a great enabler for rural areas where the public cannot readily obtain a medical consultation or see family members that are serving in the military or have moved to another state. The equipment proposed to serve the disabled covers many disabilities ranging from vision impairment to those who have trouble sitting or standing due to physical limitations.
TMCnet: How did you find the application process? What would you recommend the U.S. government tweak in the process, if anything?
RF: We were pleased that the application process was available in an electronic, Web-based format. However, it was obvious that system was not designed to handle the number of concurrent users that ultimately tried to use it. It was slow and unavailable for periods of time. The administrators of the grant, to their credit, recognized these problems and extended the deadline. In the future, a more scalable design for submissions should be considered for just such a problem.
TMCnet: What would you tell reviewers at NTIA about your organization if you could have one minute to talk to them moments before they looked at your application?
RF: I believe WorkForce would want to convey our past success with the populations we serve and how WorkForce is uniquely qualified to capitalize on this funding opportunity across the state. The 20 WorkForce locations serve both larger towns and very small rural areas that have little or no access to terrestrial broadband. Thus, the organization can quickly and efficiently make new capabilities available to a large number of citizens that either do not haveor cannot afford a computer with high speed Internet access.
TMCnet: Tell us in plain terms how important it is for your organization to receive this grant money. If you do not receive government funding, what will you do to improve services in the way you're seeking?
RF: WorkForce West Virginia could vastly improve the service it offers in each of its locations across the state with the proposed funding and make modern Internet capabilities available to an increased number of vulnerable individuals. Without the funding, WorkForce will continue to do what it can with 'recycled' computers that would have otherwise gone to government surplus and the low speed connections it currently has available for the public to use. We will not be able to provide a usable Internet experience to the disabled or provide new capabilities like video conferencing in our locations, but we will continue to serve our clients as best we can with the very limited resources that are available.
Michael Dinan is a contributing editor for TMCnet, covering news in the IP communications, call center and customer relationship management industries. To read more of Michael's articles, please visit his columnist page.
Edited by Michael Dinan