BROAD SCOPE: Stuart Freiman is the director of Broadband Rhode Island, which is spearheading a federally funded project to improve digital literacy in Rhode Island.
PBN PHOTO/RYAN T. CONATY
By Kimberley Donoghue PBN Web Editor
Computers and “connected” mobile devices may be ubiquitous, but there are still many people who do not know how to turn on a laptop, create an email account or open Internet Explorer, says Stuart Freiman, manager of the R.I. Economic Development Corporation’s Broadband Rhode Island project.
“The notion of the digital divide truly exists,” said Freiman, who estimates 30 to 35 percent of Americans do not use the Internet. “As we move into the 21st century, that’s going to be more and more important in every aspect of our lives: access to health care, the government and public-safety issues.”
Broadband Rhode Island and local organizations, such as OSHEAN – a technology consortium of colleges, universities, hospitals and public agencies – are helping reduce the local digital “illiteracy” rate, with the help of funding from the federal government covering infrastructure build-out, new computers in every public library in the state and a broadband map.
“It’s rare that you get money that covers those three areas,” Freiman said. Broadband Rhode Island is putting $4.5 million toward data collection, verification and display. Although BBRI received the funding nearly two years ago, the project only recently received final clearance to begin work.
One of the reasons that the federal government pushed the money down to the state level is because coverage and infrastructure varies from state to state, said Freiman.
Rhode Island, as well the rest of the Northeast, fares well in terms of coverage but, “access does not equal adoption,” he noted. One of the projects, data collection and contribution to a national database, is a map of the broadband coverage in the state that is “virtually complete” at approximately 99 percent, Freiman estimated.
BBRI first submitted data on broadband-coverage information to the federal government in January 2010 and is currently working on its fourth submission; the data collection will continue until December 2014.
One of the surprising findings of the broadband map is that there are at least 20 carriers in the state, which is “far more than the two or three that most people would say exist in Rhode Island, Freiman noted.
A check of the Digital Atlas map, available through the BBRI website, says there are eight carriers available at the Providence Business News office on West Exchange Street, ranging from national providers AT&T, Cox and Verizon, to lesser known ones such as WildBlue Communications and DIECA Communications.