Elected officials in Arizona have voted unanimously to provide Arizona State University (ASU) and its collaborators $34.6 million through 2026 to advance broadband, community support, equipment and training across the county, which includes the metro Phoenix area. This funding makes ASU home to the largest university-led digital equity initiative in the country.
Like food, clothing and shelter, the internet has become a basic need. Today, access is a determining factor for quality of life as it connects people to vital health care, learning experiences and work opportunities.
Yet, across Arizona, reliable access to high-speed broadband remains unequal. In Maricopa County, some neighborhoods report as many as 70% of residents are still without adequate internet performance needed for remote work, downloading homework or streaming.
Arizona State University is leading an effort to bridge this divide. The Maricopa County Board of Supervisors recently voted unanimously to provide ASU and its collaborators $34.6 million through 2026 to advance broadband, community support, equipment and training across Maricopa County, which includes the metro Phoenix area.
The funding makes ASU home to the largest university-led digital equity initiative in the country. ASU Enterprise Technology, Sun Corridor Network and the 501(c)(3) Digital Equity Institute will lead the effort along with hundreds of faculty, students and staff to bolster digital proficiency and distribute internet-connected devices to those in need.
“The idea of providing access at scale is embedded in the ASU Charter,” said Chris Howard, executive vice president and chief operating officer of the ASU Public Enterprise, which aims to design, build and oversee a new model for a national university. “Our digital equity agreement with Maricopa County signifies that as a public enterprise our commitment extends well beyond ASU’s physical locations.”
Mary Haddad, an ASU undergraduate student, shared at an ASU Town Hall her vision for the future where the internet is readily accessible for all: “In an ideal future, we are providing training, online tools and resources, making sure that we are continuously available if they need help and support.”
Partnering for social impact
It took an agile collaboration between government, education, community and industry to get to the point of funding. When the White House administration announced the American Rescue Plan, a $1.9 trillion economic stimulus package, broadband was featured prominently on the national solutions agenda.
Seeing the opportunity and the need, a group of regional partners sprung into action.
A broadband task force convened under the umbrella of The Connective, Greater Phoenix’s smart region consortium and an initiative of the Partnership for Economic Innovation. The group consisted of government officials, Maricopa County and a technical advisory team led by ASU and the Digital Equity Institute.
“Through the broadband task force, we have an opportunity to build a region where every person is a fully engaged and active participant in shaping the future of the community in which they live,” said Chris Camacho, president and CEO of the Greater Phoenix Economic Council, a task force member and a board member of the Partnership for Economic Innovation.
The nearly $35 million in funding to ASU comes through the American Rescue Plan package, awarded by Maricopa County.
“It is only through a collaborative partnership and proactive leadership that we will begin to address these structural barriers at a regionwide level to ensure the digital economy reaches all Greater Phoenix households,” said Bill Gates, Maricopa County Board of Supervisors chairperson.
Moving forward, collaboration will remain at the center. ASU Enterprise Technology, Sun Corridor Network and the Digital Equity Institute will partner to connect community anchor institutions, such as schools, health clinics and other neighborhood assets, and provide educational programs that support communities’ journeys from digital inequity to full participation.
Work is already underway to build a better connected community
Recent broadband installation pilots with Phoenix’s Isaac School District, led by ASU’s Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions and Enterprise Technology, already revealed positive impacts from improving access in K–12. Now, the implications of this latest funding allocation reach every facet of learning, working and thriving.
“The Digital Equity Institute is committed to taking a holistic approach to leveling the playing field,” said Erin Carr-Jordan, managing director of the Digital Equity Institute. “Through meaningful collaboration, we can amplify the voices of disadvantaged communities and provide people with access to the knowledge, skills and support needed to fully participate in every aspect of society, democracy and the economy.”
ASU is already analyzing the data and preparing the geographic maps as the basis for the forthcoming broadband installations.
“We must know where the gaps in service are, and this granular level of data will help us scale to serve more of our communities,” said Lev Gonick, chief information officer at ASU. “We want to make sure that the resources allocated to solving this pervasive, systemic challenge are directed to where they are most needed.”
This Monday, Oct. 3, marks the first Arizona Digital Inclusion Celebration Summit, hosted by the Digital Equity Institute and ASU’s ShapingEDU — free and open to all.
Gates, from the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors, will kick off the event by sharing the current and future state of digital equity. Government officials, broadband experts, digital literacy champions and other key groups will detail what the community needs to know — and what comes next.Read More...
Davidson College, Duke University and North Carolina Central University (NCCU), in collaboration with MCNC, today announced that the newly-created North Carolina Shared Research & Education collaborative infrastructure (NCShare) has received two National Science Foundation (NSF) grants totaling approximately $1.4 million to provide high-speed research network capacity, support high-performance computing, and boost STEM education to at least eight minority-serving, smaller, or mid-sized institutions of higher education throughout North Carolina.
The first NSF award (Abstract #2201525 for CC* Regional: NCShare Science DMZ) is for $984,868 and spans two years in order to establish a parallel science network infrastructure to interconnect campus researchers to external sites with a speed and style of connectivity that is typically only available at large research universities. Rather than each participant needing to build their own science network infrastructure, this project builds a shared, regionally-based network operating on MCNC’s existing state-wide research and education network. The result is expected to lower costs, require fewer campus support personnel, and provide fast and unrestricted data movement to multiple institutions. This virtualized approach increases accessibility of high-speed data-driven research by democratizing access to advanced cyberinfrastructure, enhancing research productivity, promoting collaboration, and reducing the time required for scientific discoveries at participating minority-serving and smaller institutions. Duke University Chief Information Officer (CIO) Tracy Futhey is the principal investigator (PI) for the project supported by co-PIs Davidson College CIO Kevin Davis, NCCU CIO Leah Kraus and Director of the Julius L. Chambers Biomedical/Biotechnology Research Institute Deepak Kumar, and MCNC President and CEO Tracy Doaks.
“The NCShare partnership is an important step towards addressing historical IT infrastructure inequities at minority-serving institutions such as North Carolina Central University and preparing a diverse STEM/high computing workforce of the future,” said Deepak Kumar, Ph.D., who also serves as interim associate provost and dean of Research and Sponsored Programs at NCCU. “The proposed infrastructure will foster collaborative and multidisciplinary research in areas such as big data and high-performance computing in genomics, drug discovery, clinical care and public health.”
The second NSF award (Abstract #2201105 for CC* Compute: NCShare Compute as a Service) is for $397,557 and also is a two-year grant that dovetails the work above but focuses on creating a shared computing environment supporting a common set of software and services, with priority use by Davidson, NCCU, and other North Carolina minority-serving and smaller institutions. The project leverages MCNC’s high-speed, high-bandwidth network and Duke’s already mature capability in automated provisioning, software containerization and advanced networking, which will accelerate implementation and make computation and powerful software environments quickly available to researchers, educators and students in the region.
As a result, faculty at participating institutions will benefit from having access to tools and services that ease the delivery of customized computing systems to meet their research needs and enable easy access to powerful tools for students. By starting from a common base environment and then supporting customizations that can meet the specific research and education demands of participating institutions, this project provides hands-on opportunities for students to use advanced science capabilities and software environments. Charley Kneifel, Chief Technology Officer at Duke’s Office of Information Technology, is the PI for the project supported by co-PIs Duke’s Tracy Futhey, NCCU’s Leah Kraus and Davidson’s Kevin Davis.
“North Carolina Central University is proud to partner with Davidson College and Duke University to enhance the overall academic experience and intellectual climate for our respective community members,” said David H. Jackson, Jr., NCCU provost and vice chancellor for academic affairs. “Through making our data infrastructure and software access more robust, this collaboration will assist us in fulfilling our Eagle Promise with innovative research opportunities that prepare our students to graduate on time with leadership skills, global relevance, and employment or acceptance to graduate and professional schools.”
“NCShare’s assistance to current and future faculty and students with teaching, learning and research will be especially important to Davidson and other small North Carolina colleges and universities like us,” said Shelley Rigger, interim vice president for academic affairs at Davidson College. “We don’t have the resources or the demand to invest in technology at this level for ourselves alone. The funding provided by the NSF enables us to partner with North Carolina institutions as we invest in high-power computing to turbocharge undergraduate research.”
MCNC owns and operates the North Carolina Research and Education Network (NCREN), one of America’s longest-running regional research and education networks, providing high-performance networking services for education, research, libraries, health care, public safety, and other community anchor institutions throughout state. This network is the fundamental broadband infrastructure for more than 850 of these institutions (including all public K-20 education) in North Carolina.
“This is a big moment,” said MCNC’s Tracy Doaks. “Our incredible minority and smaller institutions of higher education throughout North Carolina play a key role in our state’s overarching digital equity and inclusion plans; they are hubs for innovation and economic opportunity in their communities. For over 40 years MCNC has been a trusted collaborator offering technology solutions and advanced networking to connect North Carolina. We are pleased to continue our long tradition of supporting important efforts such as this one.”
A virtual information session is scheduled Oct. 20 for those interested in these projects and want to learn more.
The North Carolina Shared Research and Education (NCShare) infrastructure provides access to networking, scientific and statistical computing services to minority-serving institutions and smaller to mid-sized institutions of higher education in North Carolina, encompassing both private and public institutions. The program establishes a parallel research network infrastructure (a Science DMZ) to interconnect campus researchers to external sites. NCShare is a shared, regionally-based network operating on MCNC’s existing state-wide research and education network, rather than as a separate infrastructure. The result is expected to lower costs, require fewer campus support personnel, and provide fast and unrestricted data movement to multiple institutions. NCShare is a joint effort established by Duke University, Davidson College, North Carolina Central University and MCNC. Additional information is available at www.ncshare.org.
Georgia Tech’s Office of Information Technology (OIT) was recently awarded a $995,550 grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to enable network and research enhancements for nearby historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs).
The NSF grant will fund at 100 percent a two-year project titled Promoting Research and Education at Small Colleges in the Atlanta University Center and at Tuskegee University Through Network Architecture Enhancements. Through this project, Georgia Tech, in collaboration with Southern Crossroads (SoX), will extend advanced networking services and cyberinfrastructure access to Clark Atlanta University, Morehouse School of Medicine, Spelman College, and Tuskegee University. The project includes a robust training and support program to ensure proper adoption and success for researchers and educators at participating institutions. The Atlanta University Consortium (AUC) Woodruff Library will benefit from network upgrades through the grant as well.
Cas D’Angelo, OIT associate vice president and chief operating officer, serves as principal investigator for the project. He also serves as president of SoX, a Georgia Tech affiliate organization that serves nonprofit education, research, and government entities with cyberinfrastructure and global high-performance connectivity.
“We started preparing a compelling proposal package that would demonstrate the need and value to the research community in early 2021,” said D’Angelo. “For years, we have been working to get institutions within the AUC — the oldest and largest contiguous consortium of African American higher education institutions in the U.S. — connected to the SoX regional network, given their proximity. This project provides us with that opportunity.”
This project will also lay the groundwork for expansion to other HBCUs.
The NSF has solicited proposals to support traditionally underserved institutions of higher education through partnerships with regional entities that have experience in high-performance research and education networking like Georgia Tech. Special emphasis has been placed on HBCUs, tribal colleges and universities, and other traditionally minority-serving institutions.
To learn more, visit sox.net.Read More...