Auburn University to use Department of Commerce grant to bridge digital divide throughout Alabama

AUBURN – Auburn University’s Economic & Community Development Institute, or ECDI, a partnership of Auburn University and the Alabama Cooperative Extension System, will use $1,003,000 in grant funds from the U.S. Department of Commerce for a project designed to bridge the digital divide and promote engagement in the digital economy across all of Alabama’s 67 counties.

The project will employ interactive computer-based programs to educate and train Alabama residents and community leaders in the social and economic benefits of broadband technology and will utilize targeted statewide and regional media campaigns to increase awareness of broadband’s practical applications.

The funds are part of a grant of just under $1.2 million awarded to the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs, or ADECA. Matching funds in the amount of $1,159,000 have been committed by ECDI, the Alabama Cooperative Extension System, or ACES, the BEACON Consortium of the Alabama Community College System, or ACCS, and the Alabama Institute for Deaf and Blind, or AIDB, putting the total budget for the project at $2,340,350.

ECDI director Joe Sumners says that most of Alabama’s larger communities are well positioned to adopt high-speed telecommunications technologies but that residents of the state’s rural communities are not in this position. Sumners says that because of lower levels of education, as well as economic, social and physical isolation, rural areas are where broadband is most needed, and that this project will have a significant impact on the lives of thousands of Alabama citizens.

Economic & Community Development Institute staff members will lead and coordinate this initiative, which will be supported by the ACES/Ag Information Technology Unit and administered at the local level by Extension’s 67 county coordinators. The project was designed by Amelia Hall Stehouwer, ECDI Research and Training Manager and the lead developer for the proposal.

“Alabama residents with communications barriers due to disabilities or language, along with those who have been displaced from jobs, lack transportation options or have limited resources, represent some of the state’s most vulnerable populations,” said Stehouwer. “These individuals have the most to gain from broadband but are currently least likely to utilize this technology. This grant will enable us to help bridge the digital divide experienced by these populations.”

ConnectingALABAMA, a broadband initiative established by Gov. Bob Riley, will serve as the ADECA lead on this project. Jessica Dent, executive director of ConnectingALABAMA, says the grant partnership is an example of how organizations are working together to provide every region of Alabama with the communication tools needed to fully participate in today’s global economy.

For more information on Auburn’s Economic & Community Development Institute, go to http://www.auburn.edu/outreach/ecdi. For more information on ConnectingAlabama, go to http://connectingalabama.gov/ca/default.aspx.

(Contributed by Amelia Hall Stehouwer.)

Contact: Amelia Hall Stehouwer, (334) 844-5394 (hallame@auburn.edu), or
Mike Clardy, (334) 844-9999 (clardch@auburn.edu)