Minority universities receive funding to bring broadband to surrounding areas
Southern University at New Orleans College of Business and Public Administration
By Elise Saloom
On and off campus, university students need access to fast and reliable broadband.
The National Telecommunication and Information Administration awarded $175 million in grants to 93 minority serving institutions as part of its Connecting Minority Communities Pilot Program in February. The program is part of NTIA's Internet For All campaign.
The funding for this two-year program will provide a variety of broadband services for universities and their anchor communities. NTIA awarded grants to Grambling State University, Southern University and A&M College, Southern University Law Center and Southern University at New Orleans.
Gregory Ford, vice-chancellor for academic and evening & weekend affairs at Southern University at New Orleans, administered the grant on his campus. He indicated two of the high schools the university partnered with for dual enrollment courses had to drop out of the program due to students lacking the technology required to finish the semester.
“The biggest challenge was our students, once they leave campus, not having internet access,” Ford said. “They don't have the best broadband in our neighboring community, and when our students leave campus, they don't have the same access that they have on their own campus.”
With $3 million in funding, SUNO will install towers on campus buildings to expand broadband to the immediate area, as well as purchase 400 Wi-Fi units for families in the community. They will also build a mobile Wi-Fi vehicle to provide broadband service during power outages.
In addition to addressing infrastructure needs on campus, SUNO plans to improve digital literacy in the neighboring community.
“We will be working with the citizens to increase digital literacy because it is important to know how you can maximize the use of the internet and what broadband really can do for you,” Ford said. “The ultimate goal is for the citizens of New Orleans to be able to compete. To compete in education, to compete [in] healthcare, just to compete in ways that folks that do have broadband access can compete.”
SUNO wasn't the only university given funding to address disparities in broadband access in its community. Grambling State University also received a CMC grant of $2.2 million. For students and faculty, lack of internet access has created difficulties in learning environments. Through the grant, the university will provide 600 students with mobile hotspots for one year.
“On campus, we have a number of buildings that are old, and we were not having reliable Wi-Fi service inside the buildings,” Connie Walton, provost and vice president of academic affairs, said. “And this specifically became a challenge during the pandemic, when faculty were trying to livestream lectures. We knew that had to be a priority and something that we were going to look at.”
Along with improving broadband access on campus, the university will establish a laboratory to support telemedicine conferencing.
“Not only is [the program] going to be available to our faculty and our students at Grambling State University, but individuals in the anchor community, professionals, nurse practitioners and others who want to learn more about telemedicine will be able to come on campus and participate in programs that we are going to make available to the anchor community,” Walton said.
Another key component focuses on providing undergraduate students training in cybersecurity. Students of all majors will have the opportunity to take a foundational course on threat intelligence, earning the IBM Cybersecurity Threat Intelligence badge upon completion.
“We expect that when this particular project is over, we will have realized a new reality that allows us to take advantage of all sorts of technology,” Walton said.
For both GSU and SUNO, the goal is to expand on the program to continue to benefit their anchor communities.