Stimulus could give residents new broadband opportunities

Shamira Fowler

Funds would be used for training, Web site

Kent residents may soon have the opportunity to be trained in developing broadband content and Web site content if Northeastern Educational Television of Ohio is granted a $1.3 million broadband stimulus grant from the U.S. National Telecommunications and Information Administration.

NETO, which is headed by Western Reserve Public Media (public TV stations WNEO and WEAO), has submitted a broadband stimulus grant application to the Broadband Technology Opportunities Program, a government program that provides stimulus money for broadband education. NETO hopes to expand technology to the public with its “Regional Fusion: The Central Authority for All Things Regional” plan.

With the funds, NETO would train Kent residents on developing broadband content and a Web site that would feature regional video on demand, a virtual public square and a regional knowledge portal, said Trina Cutter, Western Reserve Public Media President and CEO.

“It kind of takes broadband to a new level of teaching people how to create content for broadband,” Cutter said. “(Regional Fusion would be) a place where they (the public) can go to get information or load information.”

NETO is also applying for $1.7 million in grant money for a Broadband Education and Empowerment Project, which would include a statewide training initiative. It would offer workshops to the general public.

“We said, ‘Well, we already have workshops for teachers to teach them how to use this technology, why not set up something for the public to teach them how to use these features?'” Cutter said. “Things like banking online and search engines – it’s a lower level, but there’s a lot of people out there who don’t know how to use that stuff. Workshops to teach them how to use these things are going to be important.”

NETO is owned by a consortium, including Kent State, The University of Akron, and Youngstown State University, although the group provides no funding.

A 10-station public computer center will also be housed at the Western Reserve Public Media Administration offices off Campus Center Road in Kent. Three part-time students or interns would be hired to operate the centers if awarded funding.

They would also create public computer centers at the Kent State Stark Campus, University of Akron, Youngstown State University and Cuyahoga County Community College, all with the same three-man set-up. These set-ups would be equipped with broadband field packages and editing suites so students and members of the public can learn to create content.

Al Bartholet, NETO board member and WKSU general manager, echoed Cutter’s sentiments that NETO’s programs would be in the best interest of the public.

“Western Reserve PBS and Fusion channels already do extensive local broadcast programming for the region,” Bartholet said in an e-mail. “This project will expand the services into the broadband arena as well as fully engage citizens throughout northeast Ohio in the creation of content for the Internet.

“When all is said and done, the hope is that this project will inform citizens about the people, places and issues of our region and inspire them to get involved to make Northeast Ohio a better place to live, work and play.”

Cutter said the economy had a large effect on jumpstarting the two programs, which has been in the works for quite some time.

“We can hit the ground running with it as opposed to if we don’t get the money,” Cutter said. “These are still really good projects, and we’ll just be looking for money to get these projects done as the economy gets a little better. That means it’ll just happen slower and incrementally until we eventually get enough funding.”

Western Reserve is expecting word from the National Telecommunications and Information Administration between now and the end of December on whether or not the grant has been awarded. The latest date to announce the winner of the grant is Sept. 10, 2010, Cutter said.

Western Reserve PBS and WNEO/WEAO Fusion produce hundreds of hours of local/regional programming, including an all Spanish-speaking channel called V-me and an international public channel that broadcasts programming from Australia, England and many other countries.

“This type of programming is not offered anywhere else in the region,” Bartholet said. “If it were not for Western Reserve Public Media, these program services and local/regional programs would not exist. In this world of mega-corporations or groups where the owner lives in a far-away land, it is good to have a locally-owned, locally-operated television service that informs, educates and enlightens with the added bonus of being educational and noncommercial.”

If the business plan, which took two years and 157 pages to develop, is awarded funding, Cutter said NETO would immediately begin developing curriculum, purchasing and setting up equipment and hiring people.

Contact public affairs reporter Shamira Fowler at [email protected].