Making broadband available for all Americans isn't enough, according to FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski, who this week placed renewed emphasis on the importance of making broadband easily adoptable and affordable, particularly for population groups that have largely been left out.
Speaking at the Clinton Presidential Library in Little Rock, Ark., Genachowski outlined some of the obstacles to adoption and vowed to seek to overcome them.
"There are a number of obstacles to adoption," he said. "Often people don't see the value of the Internet in their homes, or don't have the skills necessary to take advantage of connectivity. Others cite price -- they aren't able to afford the service or the hardware."
He also cited grim figures on low broadband adoption rates of 55 to 70% in rural, low income, minorities, and elderly communities.
In addition, about 10% of the nation's population doesn't even have access to broadband. Citing global research on broadband adoption, Genachowski said the research found that a 10% increase in broadband availability corresponds to a 1.2 to 1.5 point increase in GDP.
So what can the U.S. do?
Genachowski pointed to the $7 billion that has been set aside in the federal Recovery Act to spur broadband availability and acceptance. The grants, administered by the U.S. Commerce and Agriculture Departments, have as a prime goal, the mission of creating jobs. The Recovery Act, Genachowski noted, calls for the FCC to develop a medium-and long-term National Broadband Plan due in February.
"We believe," said Genachowski, "that broadband is a critical infrastructure challenge of our generation. It is to us what railroads, electricity, highways, and telephones were to previous generations -- a platform for commerce and economic competitiveness, for helping address major national challenges like education and health care."
Observing that significant progress has already been made, Genachowski said a bipartisan effort by Congress and President Clinton in 1994 aimed at installing broadband in public schools has been successful in bringing the high-speed networking technology to the nation's school children. "Broadband can allow students everywhere -- both in rural America and inner cities -- to access the best teachers and information," the FCC chairman said.