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Contact: Chriss Swaney
Pam Selker Rak, CommuniTech

For immediate release:
April 22, 2002

Carnegie Mellon Researchers and 3 Rivers Connect Unveil New Plan to Get Broadband Moving Again

PITTSBURGH—A joint effort between Carnegie Mellon University researchers and 3 Rivers Connect will help create an affordable broadband network throughout the 12-county southwestern Pennsylvania region.

The project, dubbed "Digital Rivers," is charged with investigating the technological, economic and policy issues involved in improving access to broadband services, and solving the economic challenge of connecting broadband to homes, schools and small businesses. The report is available at Digital Rivers comes on the heels of Pittsburgh's recent ranking of 37th overall in the Metropolitan New Economy Index by the Washington, D.C.-based Progressive Policy Institute, and its position as 79th (out of 87) in the "America's Most Wired Cities," a 2002 study conducted by Yahoo! Internet Life.

The Digital Rivers project outlines a plan, including the development of incentive packages, to motivate industry to move new technologies into underserved areas. One proposal is the creation of a new public/private authority with the ability to assume debt, build, manage and lease telecommunications infrastructure to competing service providers.

The study found that broadband service— always on high-speed Internet connection via phone lines, cable, or wireless signals— can help computer makers sell faster machines and telecom equipment companies sell more network components. Researchers also found that broadband will open the floodgates for mass production of digital content for consumers. In the right climate, broadband services can reverberate through an economy, generating billions in new revenues from innovative applications, which require high bandwidth while stimulating all sectors of the economy.

But ever since Congress attempted to reform the U.S. communications industry nearly six years ago, the broadband process has been bogged down in lobbying, litigation and posturing by the long-distance carriers, the cable operators and Internet players, according to industry analysts. As a result, consumers have seen little in the way of competition and innovation in local phone, broadband and data services.

"We can break the broadband traffic jam by creating alliances with business, government and the consumer sector as we move to improve the telecommunication options for all segments of our vibrant local economy," said Pradeep Khosla, head of Carnegie Mellon's Information Networking Institute (INI). The INI, a cooperative endeavor of the schools of engineering, computer science and business, studies information-networking issues.

Ronald Gdovic, executive director of the Pittsburgh-based, non-profit 3 Rivers Connect, said the Digital Rivers project underscores the technological, economic and policy issues influencing universal access to the Internet. "It is clear that a single technology can't satisfy the entire region due to geography and other constraints," he said.

"The real barrier is economics. Only a focused and comprehensive effort, similar in commitment to our region's comprehensive planning process, will help realize universal broadband access in southwestern Pennsylvania. Findings indicate that universal, affordable broadband access is possible through a combination of existing infrastructure, new fiber to home technology, and wireless where the network infrastructure is built and owned by a quasi-public entity," Gdovic said.

In fact, the cable companies, with their independent lines into the home, have emerged as the most successful providers of broadband service in the U.S. Cable modems account for about 70 percent of total broadband lines deployed. DSL lines represent about 28 percent, and satellite providers, which only recently introduced two-way broadband systems, have about 1 percent of the market.

The new Digital Rivers study argues that all broadband players should be treated equally. The study further suggests that the borough of Homestead be used as a pilot project for the deployment of a new broadband network.

The goal of the 18-month pilot project, in Homestead, would be to show how affordable and advantageous such a deployment would be. Homestead, a former steel town, has an unemployment rate of 11 percent and needs an incentive to draw new high-tech industries and population into the area.

In addition to the pilot project, the 150-page study also recommends conducting training, education and awareness programs to build a foundation of bandwidth users. The Howard Heinz Endowment, the Pennsylvania Technology Investment Authority, and the Allegheny County Department of Economic Development provided $740,000 for the initial feasibility study.


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