State of Iowa hired to lead $ 16 million rural broadband research



Hongwei Zhang and other researchers installed equipment at the Iowa State University Research Park for CyNet, an advanced wireless networking system that is a predecessor of the new ARA rural broadband project. (Provided by Iowa State University. Photo by Christopher Gannon.)

Iowa on Tuesday hosted the National Science Foundation’s fourth and final wireless research platform – backed by a $ 100 million public-private partnership – thanks to a $ 16 million investment in research led by the State of Iowa to achieve universal and affordable rural broadband.

Iowa State University has joined New York City, Salt Lake City and North Carolina State University as a research platform host for the “Platforms for Advanced Wireless Research Program ”(or PAWR) designed to accelerate “the development and commercialization of promising technologies and applications”.

The ISU-based platform has been labeled, “ARA: Wireless Living Lab for smart and connected rural communities”And complements other previous platforms with a focus on technologies to improve broadband connectivity in rural areas.

ARA will serve as a “wireless living laboratory” encompassing the ISU campus, the town of Ames, neighboring farms and rural communities in central Iowa. Local partners include Collins Aerospace, John Deere, US Cellular, the Iowa Department of Transportation, the Meskwaki Tribal Nation, and local school districts.

Researchers from the University of California-Irvine, Ohio State University, and the International Computer Science Institute are also involved.

NSF invests $ 7 million in UIS-based research to force innovation in rural broadband connectivity; US Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture provides an additional $ 1 million; and the partners provide a corresponding investment of $ 8 million.

“When we launched the PAWR program in 2016, our vision was to bring together the public and private sectors to truly revolutionize our country’s wireless innovation ecosystem,” said Margaret Martonosi, NSF deputy director for computing and computing. a virtual announcement of the ISU-based platform.

The program aimed to catalyze the development of new wireless devices, protocols and applications to improve broadband connectivity nationwide. It was aimed at maintaining the competitive advantage of the United States on a global scale. And he aspired to ensure that researchers had the tools to experiment “in the wild,” Martonosi said.

“ARA is PAWR’s fourth platform, and it specifically seeks innovative solutions to reduce costs and improve the availability of rural broadband, benefiting many underserved communities across the country,” she said.

The research comes at a crucial time – given that COVID-19 demanded unprecedented levels of virtual connectivity.

“Last year we saw firsthand the challenges of unconnected communities during the COVID-19 pandemic,” Martonosi said. “Rural communities in our country have struggled to access education, telehealth services, telecommuting opportunities, to name a few. “

Noting that digital divides exist in all 50 states, Martonosi pointed out Linn County – noting that 15% of its households do not have broadband access.

“Average broadband costs in Linn County are higher… compared to more densely populated areas where the same amount of broadband equipment can cover more customers and therefore lower costs,” she said. . “So we need new solutions.

The ARA platform will focus its research on a variety of applications, including precision farming and agriculture, agriculture automation, and agricultural education based on augmented reality.

Hongwei Zhang of Iowa State, a professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, leads the ARA project and said the platform will enable research on “end-to-end broadband infrastructure for rural areas. and remote ”.

“By supporting fundamental communication services such as ultra-reliable and low latency communications, ARA enables field research studies such as vehicle or drone tele-operations that are of interest to rural and urban areas but are difficult to conduct. in urban settings in the early stages of exploration, ”said Zhang.

In a statement, ISU President Wendy Wintersteen underscored the research platform’s goal of laying the groundwork for a more accessible and affordable rural broadband service.

“That’s the goal of Iowa State University’s land granting mission – to leverage our research and innovation to meet the needs of Iowans,” said Wintersteen. “Rural broadband has become an essential need.

“The State of Iowa is very excited to be working with our partners to develop affordable wireless technologies that will help connect and create opportunities for families, schools, farms and communities across the state. . “

Broadband access

New Findings from BroadbandNow Research reveal that connectivity is even more sparse than you might think. Against federal reports that the number of Americans without broadband access rose from more than 21 million to 14.5 million in 2020, the research firm reports that its detailed investigation found that “42 million “Americans do not have access to terrestrial broadband internet”.

The state-by-state breakdown of researchers found that 387,344 Iowa residents lack broadband – about three times the Federal Communications Commission estimate of 127,000, according to the new BroadbandNow report.

That number means that about 12% of Iowa residents do not have access, far more than the 4% predicted by the FCC. Iowa, although more rural than many states, is near the middle as a percentage of the population with broadband access.

The researchers found that West Virginia has the lowest percentage of broadband access – at just under 50 percent. They found that about 60 percent of Mississippi had access to it; 67% in Arkansas have access to it; and 71 percent in Vermont have access to it.

The states with the highest percentage of broadband access are largely urban states like Massachusetts and Rhode Island at 97%; Maryland and Delaware at 96%; and New York at 93 percent.

Vanessa Miller covers higher education for The Gazette.

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