Winter-Spring 2002

The Greater Boston Broadband Network: An Innovative University-Community Partnership
by Reebee Garafolo

George Stoney and Antonia Stone
George Stoney and Toni Stone on the Cablecast/webcast program on “The Politics of Public Access Cable and the
Community Technology Movement” from last November. The program is currently available as video-on-demand.

Since its founding in the early 1970s, the College of Public and Community Service (CPCS) at UMass Boston has been an educational institution with a commitment to serving disadvantaged populations by providing a relevant, hands-on educational experience, oriented toward student empowerment, community development, and social justice. To this end CPCS has tried to introduce new technologies as they become appropriate and useful tools to help accomplish its goals. Over the past decade there has been a movement in the introduction of new technologies from uses on the administrative side toward uses on the academic side — including instruction, community assistance, and program development. This process is now beginning to peak in the synergistic relationship among a number of related initiatives: a proposal for a new degree program in Community Media and Technology, the construction of a new computer education center made possible by a major gift from, and the development of the Greater Boston Broadband Network (GBBN) with a consortium of university-community partners. Together these efforts combine the broad-based planning and programming potential and economies of scale of a regional digital broadband network with the multi-level, multi-site educational opportunities of a university-community partnership.

The GBBN project began in earnest after CPCS secured a $1 million grant from AmeriCorps*VISTA to place, train, and support up to 80 VISTA members in Community Technology Centers in the greater Boston area and across the country. The Boston-area partners in the CTC VISTA Project united to form the Greater Boston Broadband Network. The GBBN seeks to provide broadband connectivity, media rich content development, regional programming, resource and information sharing, innovative training, certified educational programs, and multi-site distance learning to the CTCs and community organizations in the five municipalities that constitute our regional target area.

On November 15, 2001, the GBBN moved one step closer to reality with a multimedia presentation called “The Politics of Public Access Cable and the Community Technology Movement” — which included a live performance, a teleconference, a cablecast, a webcast, and an online chat. The event, sponsored by the CTC VISTA Project and the CPCS Community Media and Technology Program, featured George Stoney, community cable guru and NYU Professor of Film and Video, with comments by Antonia Stone, founder of CTCNet. The presentation has been archived and prepared for on demand web streaming by the UMass Lowell Distance Learning Center and the Lowell Telecommunications Corporation, both major partners in the project.

To put all the components of the GBBN through their paces, the talk by George Stoney was staged as a presentation to a live audience in one of the interactive distance learning classrooms of the UMass Boston Information Technology Center. This facility allowed us to teleconference Antonia Stone into the live presentation via a point-to-point link with Indian River Community College in Florida. The live presentation was cablecast on Boston Neighborhood Network's channel 23 via the city’s Public Institution Network trunk.

The event was also sent to the Distance Education Center at UMass Lowell (UML) via the university’s MPEG fiber optic network.  UML then sent the signal to Lowell's INet for cablecasting in the greater Lowell area and distributed the signal to a video server to provide an international audience with a live streaming video feed over the World Wide Web. In addition, the Lowell Telecommunications Corporation moderated a real time chat, which became part of the live event in Boston. The archived program now offers one glimpse of the capability of the network. And the GBBN is moving forward with a new season of similar presentations.

The college has also ventured into international terrain via a teleconference with the Dominican Republic, which included the Vice President and Minister of Education, to develop online interactive educational programs in conjunction with the UMass Boston World Languages Program. Other initiatives include collaborative educational programs with the University of Havana in Cuba and plans to participate in a video streamed conference with the government of Puerto Rice celebrating the 50th anniversary of the island’s constitution.

These operations have proceeded in tandem with the development of the new degree program in Community Media and Technology. As of fall 2001, the College began offering a Concentration and a freestanding Certificate in Community Media and Technology, and hopes to implement the full BA program in 2002. CPCS and its community partners are currently making plans to develop online versions of the instructional activities that comprise the Community Media and Technology Certificate. Buoyed by our recent successes with the GBBN, we have enlisted Professor Paul Nathanson of the University of New Mexico to develop an asynchronous, web-based course in “Media, Technology, and Community Organizing,” which combines on-demand streaming video presentations, real time chats, asynchronous discussions, and community-based projects. The course is being offered as part of the CMT Certificate and is open to CTC VISTAs to enhance their training and test the feasibility of developing a national constituency for our efforts.

These initiatives have received a major boost in the recent donation of $150,000 from and its parent corporation TMP Worldwide to construct an information technology facility at the college. The gift from CEO Jeff Taylor was presented to CPCS in November 2001 on the occasion of the retirement of his father, Professor Clark Taylor, one of the founders of the College. We feel confident that the new center will enable us to develop sophisticated computer-enhanced educational projects with greater degrees of facility and effectiveness.

In combination, then, the above project components—the CTC VISTA Project, the development of the GBBN, the construction of a new information technology facility, and the introduction of a new degree in Community Media and Technology, along with continued support for this Community Technology Review—establish a unique and exciting university-community partnership, enhancing the educational opportunities available to a broad spectrum of students as well as providing critical points of technological access for community organizations and collaborative regional, national, and international projects.

Reebee Garofalo

Reebee Garofalo is a professor in the College of Public and Community Service at UMass/Boston and coordinates the Community Media and Technology program.

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