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One Third Of U.S. Lacks Broadband

Cost and security concerns are the top barriers cited by respondents to an FCC survey.

A third of U.S. adults, or 80 million people, do not have access to high-speed Internet at home, hampering the nation's ability to compete abroad and to create jobs, the Federal Communications Commission reported.

One of the main reasons for not having broadband is the cost of the monthly fee, installation, and a computer, according to the FCC's National Broadband Plan Consumer Survey, released Tuesday. Another key reason is the households lacked the digital skills to take advantage of the technology.

In releasing the report, FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski said it was important to the nation to close the digital divide in the nation. "To bolster American competitiveness abroad and create the jobs of the future here at home, we need to make sure that all Americans have the skills and means to fully participate in the digital economy," he said in a statement.

The FCC is scheduled to deliver a National Broadband Plan to Congress on March 17. The report will lay out a strategy for connecting the nation to affordable, world-class broadband. The agency argues that such a plan will create jobs and spur economic growth.

In preparation for releasing the plan, the FCC conducted the survey of more than 5,000 U.S. adults between Oct. 19 and Nov. 23, 2009, to assess the nation's attitudes toward broadband. Through extrapolation, the survey revealed that 35% of adult Americans do not have high-speed Internet connections at home, which translates into 80 million adults and 13 million children over the age of five.

The survey identified three key barriers, with affordability cited by the highest number of respondents without broadband. Fully 36% said they could not afford the monthly fee, installation costs, and a computer. The average monthly broadband bill is $41, the poll found.

Second to affordability was digital literacy, with 22% of the respondents saying they lacked the skills or were concerned about the potential hazards, such as exposure to inappropriate content or security of personal information.

The third main reason for not having broadband was relevance. Fully, 19% of respondents without broadband said the Internet was a waste of time, there was no online content that interested them, or they were content with their dial-up service.

Most people who did not have high-speed Internet at home listed more than one reason for not having the service. As a result, lowering the cost alone won't significantly increase the number of Americans online, without also helping people develop digital skills and become aware of applications relevant to their lives, experts say.

Earlier this month, the FCC released a preview of its National Broadband Plan in a 56-page report that covered a variety of proposals ranging from efforts to spur job creation and improve energy independence to improving healthcare and controlling its costs.

The plan also calls for constructing an interoperable nationwide wireless public safety network. Other proposals seek to improve the delivery of education services and enhance government performance.

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