A tireless champion of Internet equity, Laura Breeden was one of the earliest Internet activists to address gaps in technology access and use to create a world that is more inclusive, helping to bring online millions of people and organizations.
After graduating from Oberlin College with a degree in Urban Studies and Education, the Kentucky native joined the staff of the Computer Science Network (CSNET), a National Science Foundation funded project, at BBN. She became the manager of the network services group and was tasked with creating the first regional education network for New England, NEARnet, which helped interconnect nearly 100 partners beginning in the 1980s. At the dawn of the commercial Internet, in the early 1990s, Breeden became the founding director and first staff member of the Federation of American Research Networks (FARnet), a national association of Internet service providers. The stories of FARnet’s impact are wide-ranging, from establishing an e-mail link between Alaska and Russia to supporting research for high school students in Wisconsin, all when phrases like “electronic mail” and “netland” were still part of network vernacular.
Because of her broad Internet experience, Breeden was selected in 1994 as the founding director of the Telecommunications and Information Infrastructure Assistance Program, an initiative of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) at the US Department of Commerce. There, over a period of two years, she awarded grants totaling $60 million to connect schools, health clinics, libraries, museums, and homeless shelters, among others.
Breeden expanded her work when she joined the Education Development Center, Inc. (EDC), a nonprofit that improves learning and health through research and technical assistance. In this role, she oversaw the implementation of technology-related projects in public-access computing, youth media, after-school services, and science education. She also built and led a consortium that served more than 400 community technology centers based in low-income housing, schools, health clinics, community colleges, and libraries.
In 2009, in the wake of the Great Recession, Breeden was asked to rejoin NTIA and help launch the Broadband Technology Opportunities Program, a grant program intended to stimulate the economy and expand broadband Internet access and use. Here she helped direct $450 million in grants to improve public computer centers and increase broadband adoption, focused on lower-income Americans and other disadvantaged groups.
After retiring from the federal government, Breeden continued to advance Internet equity by co-founding and chairing the National Digital Inclusion Alliance (NDIA), which supports 1,400+ organizations doing the work of digital inclusion. NDIA’s vision matches Breeden’s own: solve the digital divide for millions; ensure America has a better educated, more connected populace; and set an example of digital equity for the world.