Auburn to use $4.6 million Department of Commerce grant for rural broadband initiative

AUBURN – The U.S. Department of Commerce has awarded an Auburn University outreach initiative $4.6 million to expand the availability of broadband technology in Alabama’s rural libraries and schools.

In announcing the awards, Commerce Secretary Gary Locke said that when you don’t have access to high-speed Internet, you don’t have access to all the educational, business and employment opportunities it provides.

Overall, the initiative will deploy 1,000 new computer workstations and replace nearly 500 more at 94 rural libraries and 21 public schools across Alabama. Auburn plans to use the new equipment to offer online training programs and telemedical applications to underserved rural areas.

Auburn received one of only 35 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act grants recently awarded to expand broadband Internet access to citizens through key anchor institutions such as schools and libraries.

“Too many Alabamians are without broadband Internet access and the learning resources it provides,” said Auburn University President Jay Gogue. “This project will help bridge the technological divide and open doors for thousands of students and adults.”

University Outreach will provide overall leadership for the Broadband Technologies Opportunities Program initiative. Campus partners include Outreach’s Center for Governmental Services, the Wireless Engineering Research and Education Center, University Libraries, the Office of Information Technology and Harrison School of Pharmacy. External partners in the project include the Alabama Public Library Service and Tuskegee University.

“Supporting Alabama’s educational infrastructure through innovative outreach is a key objective of Auburn’s strategic plan,” said Royrickers Cook, assistant vice president for University Outreach. “I commend center director Don-Terry Veal and the dedicated team of campus and external partners for their efforts in developing such a far-reaching and high impact project.”

The Center for Governmental Services will coordinate the overall project, and directly implement technological training of library personnel that will prepare them to do much of their own tech support.

The center’s faculty and staff, along with the Wireless Engineering Research and Education Center, the University Libraries and Information Technology, will provide Alabama libraries and schools with a detailed evaluation of their technological needs and service options. The Harrison School of Pharmacy will provide advice and consultation regarding the installation of 20 audio-visual conference facilities at library locations.

Auburn will work with Tuskegee University personnel to install the new Internet workstations and with the Alabama Public Library Service to provide continuing technical support of these resources. The Wireless Engineering Research and Education Center will oversee the installation of Rural Connectivity Platforms that will expand broadband Internet access in approximately 30 communities.

The project will also provide practical experience for a number of Auburn and Tuskegee student interns in information technology.

(Contributed by Ralph Foster.)

Contact: Royrickers Cook, (334) 844-5700 (cookroy@auburn.edu), or
Mike Clardy, (334) 844-9999 (clardch@auburn.edu)