The Time Has Come: Include Research and Education in the Broadband Investment

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EDUCAUSE is working with representatives from across the research and education network (REN) community to highlight the importance of closing the institutional digital divide.

The Time Has Come: Include Research and Education in the Broadband Investment
Credit: buffaloboy / © 2021

EDUCAUSE has consistently pressed for funding both to ensure that higher education students can overcome digital divides and to strengthen the networks that support research and education. As Congress and the Biden administration negotiate a major federal investment in broadband, we at EDUCAUSE are happy to work with our sister organizations to elevate the voice of higher education in the debate. I am particularly encouraged by our recent collaboration, led by Internet2 and The Quilt, with representatives from across the research and education network (REN) community. Through that process, we have come together to highlight the importance of closing the institutional digital divide, which is essential to achieving vital national objectives.

Shortly before Memorial Day this year, our working group released The Minds We Need: Research and Education Infrastructure Inclusion, Innovation, and Competitiveness. This report calls for a nearly $5 billion investment in REN infrastructure as a key element of addressing the broadband, research, and education goals of the United States. Together, we argue that this injection of funding into state and regional RENs and the country's research and education network backbone, Internet2, will make it possible 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 broadband.

Furthermore, the proposed funding will enable these critical connections while also expanding the capacity and capabilities of the networks for all of the institutions that rely on them.

Creating this rising tide of connectivity to lift all of higher education's boats will, in turn, allow institutions of all types across the country to incorporate bandwidth-intensive, multimedia knowledge resources into their courses and programs, enriching and extending the quality and effectiveness of the learning opportunities they make available. It will also open the door for many more institutions and students to participate in research projects and activities, which again will generate new, more advanced learning opportunities while strengthening academic research.

By opening those doors, federal investment in REN infrastructure will also strengthen US research and innovation into the future since it will then be possible for all of "the minds we need" to be exposed to and engaged in the research enterprise. Finally, upgrading and expanding REN infrastructure and backbone capacity will help to extend broadband infrastructure into unserved and underserved areas, creating stepping-stones on which related broadband investments may build to overcome lingering obstacles to providing last-mile connections.

All of the contributors to The Minds We Need from across Internet2, The Quilt, EDUCAUSE, and related organizations are energized by the vision and opportunities that this report presents, and we are not alone. As with our call to Congress last year to address student broadband access and REN infrastructure, the American Council on Education (ACE) and other leading higher education associations are stepping forward to support the crucial federal investment in research and education networks reflected in the proposal. Together, we are strongly urging federal policymakers to recognize—and fund—REN infrastructure as a vital part of the nation's broadband investment agenda.

John O'Brien is President and CEO of EDUCAUSE.

© 2021 John O'Brien. The text of this work is licensed under a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND 4.0 International License.