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The Minds We Need: Federal Broadband Investment Should Include Research and Education Infrastructure

As the federal government considers a major investment in broadband, members of the research and education community, including CENIC, Internet2, The Quilt, and EDUCAUSE, came together this spring to support and publish The Minds We Need. This report calls for investments in people, collaboration tools, and infrastructure to ensure the talent and potential of all students within every community through nearly 4,000 academic institutions.

Together, our community members propose that the United States invest nearly $5 billion to connect every college and university, including every community college, historically black college and university (HBCU), minority-serving institution (MSI), tribal college and university (TCU), and college and university-related research facility, to advanced, research-quality infrastructure, tools, and services.

“We are at a crossroads,” the report states. “China and the nations of the European Union are making historical investments in research and education (R&E) infrastructure, along with investments in talent, so that the ideas and innovations that can change the world flourish. These are investments in innovation and competitiveness.

“We can choose to do nothing and be overtaken as the world leader in innovation. Or we can make the choice that we have made at other crossroads in our history: we can invest in our talent, through our system of higher education, and provide all Americans with opportunities, regardless of where they live or their economic status to participate fully in our research enterprise, which has been an engine for innovation in the US economy and a global leader.”

Federal investments in research and education infrastructure, including software, tools, resources and workforce development in addition to broadband networks, are a national imperative, as this infrastructure is essential for our scientific and engineering talent to flourish. This investment will ensure that research and education infrastructure reaches every community through our diverse system of 3,900 accredited, degree-granting higher education institutions, and ensure that there is a bridge to opportunity wherever there is talent. “These are investments in inclusion, innovation, and competitiveness,” the report states. “We cannot know where the next Edison, Carver, Curie, McClintock, Einstein, or Katherine Johnson will come from.”

Contributors to The Minds We Need report include leading researchers across numerous disciplines, representatives from research and education networks across the country, private sector partners such as Google, research facilities such as the National Center for Atmospheric Research, tribal leaders, and representatives of nearly 50 colleges and universities, from the University of California system to Diné College.

“Our top priority should be getting infrastructure out to those that don’t already have it. Smaller institutions face big obstacles to building cyberinfrastructure including available connectivity, geography, and an adequate workforce,” added Jen Leasure, president & chief executive officer of The Quilt, which represents 43 research and education networks across the US.

“The national infrastructure today is not uniform and does not reach all states, nor does it reach community colleges, which are feeders into four-year programs. We must enable institutions in all 50 states to have high-speed capacity. The emphasis in any national plan must be on spreading capacity to the most underserved communities. This should include strategies to make the cloud-based data storage systems usable and affordable,” said Vint Cerf, vice president and chief Internet evangelist at Google.

Research and education infrastructure is a critical component of a national broadband plan. Investments in this infrastructure complement the national broadband agenda’s focus on universal access by providing a foundation for inclusion, innovation, discovery, and national competitiveness. Our investment plan proposes prioritizing funding to nonprofit R&E networks, tribal, and/or across all community colleges, minority serving institutions, colleges and universities, and university research-affiliated organizations that can then form partnerships, as appropriate, with private sector companies to implement broadband programs. The research and education community has historically and will continue to work with its private sector partners.

A national broadband strategy that includes a comprehensive, coordinated, and aggressive investment in R&E infrastructure offers great leverage to increase America’s competitiveness, which is presently at risk. It is exactly the kind of strategic investment imagined in the COVID-19 pandemic relief bills and anticipated in the Biden-Harris national infrastructure proposal, as well as the national broadband bills being considered by Congress. We will achieve this competitiveness only through investment in increased connection and inclusion.

To download The Minds We Need executive summary or read the full report, fill out a brief form. For general questions contact us at info@mindsweneed.org.

To help your institution endorse the action plan and funding timeline proposed by The Minds We Need, and to further support your advocacy efforts at both the state and federal levels, a toolkit has been developed with resources for you and your staff, located at mindsweneed.org.

The Minds We Need Toolkit includes:

  • Customizable statement of support
  • Guidance on social media endorsement
  • Factsheet of key talking points
  • Funding timeline factsheet
  • Factsheet listing all contributors to paper