TMCnews Featured Article


October 23, 2009

Broadband Stimulus as Intended: Ohio TV Group Seeks to Help Region's Citizens

By Michael Dinan, TMCnet Editor


One of the more unique and interesting broadband stimulus grant applications that we’ve seen is coming out of Kent, Ohio, where a nonprofit organization that includes two TV stations and an educational services division is seeking about $1.3 million to create computer centers.
 
There, the head of Northeastern Educational Television of Ohio, which includes Western Reserve Public Media (public TV stations WNEO and WEAO), told TMCnet in an interview (printed in full below), citizens will be trained to develop robust broadband content, and a Web site that will feature regional video on demand, a virtual public square and a regional knowledge portal.
 
According to NETO President and CEO Trina Cutter, the organization’s goal is to use the centers to help that stations’ viewers learn how to create video-on-demand, blogging and social networking content for a broadband environment.
 
“Their broadband content will be loaded on to a companion Web site that will serve as a virtual public square that will inform and give a voice to citizens throughout northeast Ohio,” Cutter said.
 
NETO also is applying for about $1.7 million in grant money for what it calls the “Broadband Education and Empowerment Project.” That project would include a statewide training initiative offering workshops to the general public on the variety and versatility of broadband applications.
 
“Citizens that would otherwise not have access to computers and technology workshops will learn to use broadband applications that are becoming increasingly necessary to everyday living -- skills such as applying for a job and banking online,” she told us.
 
That’s a refreshing description, amid other broadband stimulus funding requests that clearly are intended to use public funds to further private interests, and it comes from a nonprofit organization that’s been around for nearly four decades.
 
Cutter also had a unique and entertaining take on the broadband stimulus application process – a process that’s been criticized by many.
 
Our full exchange follows.
 
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?

Trina Cutter (pictured left): When (a little positive thinking here) Northeastern Educational Television of Ohio, Inc., dba Western Reserve Public Media, receives Recovery Act Broadband grant funds, U.S. citizens, consumers and businesses can be confident that this is one of the smartest investments the government could make.
 
With the “Broadband Education and Empowerment Project,” we are taking the services we provide at our 21st Century Educational Service Center that instructs K-12 teachers on how to use technology in the classroom and expanding those services to the general public. Citizens that would otherwise not have access to computers and technology workshops will learn to use broadband applications that are becoming increasingly necessary to everyday living -- skills such as applying for a job and banking online.
 
Our other application, “Regional Fusion: Public Computer Centers,” takes broadband applications to a higher level than what will be provided with BEEP funds. Western Reserve Public Media is the owner/operator of two public television stations. The experience and skills that have made us successful in the broadcast and community engagement arena will be applied to the broadband world.
 
That means that people who have enjoyed our broadcast, local productions and community engagement services for the past 36 years now will learn from us how to create video-on-demand, blogging and social networking content for a broadband environment. Their broadband content will be loaded on to a companion Web site that will serve as a virtual public square that will inform and give a voice to citizens throughout northeast Ohio.

TMCnet: How did you find the application process? What would you recommend the U.S. government tweak in the process, if anything?

TC:
The online application process was clear, deliberate and logical. Although getting to the online site was slow and cumbersome, especially as we got closer to the deadline, NTIA e-mailed helpful messages about what we could do to make a faster connection and when to take advantage of low traffic times.
 
Even though we had a couple of “shovel ready” projects that fit the BTOP objectives, assembling the information for the application under such a tight timeframe was an intense “all-hands-on-deck” effort. After we pushed the button to send it out to cyberspace we joked that the experience was a lot like the eccentric relative that comes for a short intense visit; when he is gone we miss him.
 
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?

TC:
Many organizations like ours are all about being something for the community; Western Reserve Public Media is about doing for the communities we serve. We see a need and we determine what is necessary and who we could partner with to meet the need. Because we are who we say we are and we do what we say we will do, we have built a reputation of competency and trust with our communities. BEEP and Regional Fusion: Public Computer Centers take the skills and partners we have acquired over a 36-year history and apply them to a broadband universe.
 
We will not be starting from scratch in developing and working closely with partners, we are not reinventing the wheel when it comes to interacting and engaging with northeast Ohio citizens and there will be no learning curve when it comes to understanding technology. The BTOP initiative fits Western Reserve Public Media like a glove and I can assure you that if we are awarded the funds we will be good stewards of the money and successful in accomplishing what we set out to do.
 
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?

TC:
Both of our projects have been a twinkle in our eye for quite some time. They have not got off the ground for two main reasons: timing and lack of funding. A variation of the Broadband Education and Empowerment Program has been a part of our annual operational plan since 2005. In 2005 people were still debating the need or value of broadband services so it was not prudent to pursue funding for this project when people were not feeling a great need for the services.
 
The Regional Fusion Public Computer Centers project is a sub-set of a business plan that took nearly two years to develop. The final plan was approved by our Board of Directors last November, but when the economy took a dive we had to put the plan in a holding pattern. Receiving this grant money will jumpstart both of these initiatives and allow us to hit the ground running in providing broadband services for our communities. If we do not receive the government funding we will continue to incrementally introduce broadband services to our communities as funding becomes 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