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Home » The Future of Education » Designing Equitable On-Ramps for the National Broadband Highway

Creating a STEM-literate workforce through access to broadband is critical to our nation’s security and prosperity.


Paula Golden

President, Broadcom Foundation

The good news in the 1950s was the federal government’s massive investment in 48,000-miles of the “Dwight D. Eisenhower National System of Interstate and Defense Highway” that brought unprecedented prosperity to post-WWII United States. The bad news was that state and local government decision makers located highway on-and-off ramps where they gutted and displaced poor neighborhoods, destroying the social fabric and economic prospects of communities of color who remain among the nation’s underserved today.

At long last (and in no small measure due to COVID-19 lockdowns that roused universal awareness of the inequities of internet access) President Biden signed the Bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act to fund national broadband — a 21st century infrastructure package that can be more transformative than Eisenhower’s highways.  If properly deployed, national broadband can close the digital divide between the haves and have-nots, but only if each state designs its required mapping plan to deliver internet and other information and communication technologies (ICT) to underserved urban, rural and tribal communities. If each state designs its plan to fulfill the intent of Congress, national broadband will create “new jobs and economic opportunities that will improve the overall quality of life for all Americans.”

Time is of the essence

Of the $65 billion in broadband investments, $42.45 billion is earmarked to fund a “last-mile broadband development grant program” administered by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA). The Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment program (BEAD) is intended to connect underserved areas through grants to the states.  To qualify for the an initial $100 million, each state must submit its broadband map with a five-year plan “that identifies locations that should be prioritized for support; outlines how to serve unconnected locations; and assesses how long it would take to build out universal broadband.”

This is an all-hands-on-deck moment for STEM education stakeholders in the public, nonprofit, and especially the business sector with sway over state and local decision makers. Weighing in on your state’s map design over next six to twelve months will determine if technology on-ramps reach urban, rural and tribal communities where they are needed most. States with existing broadband offices and maps are in the best position to qualify for grants, so it is imperative to make sure your state is taking steps to qualify before the mid-term elections. (Click here for more information). 

Creating a STEM-literate workforce through access to broadband is every bit as critical to our nation’s security and prosperity as the Interstate Highway. This time let’s get it right and make sure everyone benefits from this once-in-a generation opportunity. Weighing in on your state’s five-year mapping plan will ensure that there is an educated, skilled workforce to fill 2.0 million of the 3.5 million STEM jobs needed by 2025, especially if  it is one that undergoing rapid revitalization from new and returning STEM innovation and manufacturing.

Local businesses can lead the way

Concurrent with advocating broadband equity, American businesses must assume a greater role in eliminating the deficits in STEM education if they want to benefit from the STEM-ready workforce they need. Broadband is just the highway, but the end-users are classrooms, after-school and out-of-school programs and homes, which also require investment if students are to be career-ready for our STEM-driven economy. Businesses must lean in with critical capital by sponsoring STEM spaces, equipment or scholarships; promoting employee volunteerism; funding competitions or making internships and apprenticeships available.

Broadcom Foundation is doing its part to increase the nation’s STEM workforce through a new initiative called Broadcom Coding with Commitment it encourages young people to combine their knowledge of science with coding to create projects that improve their community.  Their innovations will be shared in regional science fairs and online exhibitions like Raspberry Pi Foundation’sCoolest Projects Global.”  To ensure that the foundation encourages civic engagement in STEM, the program is aligned with the 17 Sustainable Development Goals of the United Nations. The foundation also partners with the Raspberry Pi Foundation to establish after-school Code Clubs and CoderDojos with access to free coding materials and instruction for students, parents and educators. 

Broadcom Foundation is a founding member of the STEM Funders Network and the STEM Learning Ecosystems, which gives voice to the national priority of creating equitable access to STEM learning.  Approximately 100 STEM Ecosystems have been established through the US to insure that “all of our resources, schools, community settings such as after-school and summer programs, science centers and museums, and informal experiences at home and in a variety of environments together constitute a rich array of STEM learning opportunities for young people.” 

Embedded into the Five-Year Federal STEM Education Strategic Plan, the STEM Learning Ecosystems are poised to take full advantage of national broadband in order to “prepare the STEM Workforce… both college-educated STEM practitioners and those working in skilled trades that do not require a four-year degree.”  Their goals, like that of Congress, are within our grasp if we all work to ensure that national broadband carries the internet into every community, with on-ramps for ALL.

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