Commentary
1/30/2009
03:18 PM
K.C. Jones
K.C. Jones
Commentary

Broadband Stimulus No Panacea

The nation's leaders plan to spend $6 billion on expanding broadband access, but it's unclear how their efforts will pan out.



The nation's leaders plan to spend $6 billion on expanding broadband access, but it's unclear how their efforts will pan out.No doubt they could help provide access for the one-third of Americans who listed price and availability as their main obstacles to obtaining high-speed Internet services.

That includes 24% of rural dial-up users who say there's no infrastructure to deliver broadband to their homes.

Those who cite cost as a deterrent could benefit from subsidies or funds that currently help extend phone service to those who couldn't otherwise afford it.

However, a recent report from the Pew Internet & American Life Project highlights two-thirds of those without broadband access who are not likely to benefit from government efforts to expand access. That's because they're not interested in logging onto the Internet. They said in a 2008 survey that they see the Internet as unnecessary, uninteresting, inconvenient, irrelevant, or a waste of time.

Still, Pew pointed out that injecting funds into broadband expansion can accomplish other goals, like job creation and improved speeds for existing customers.

"The goals are obviously related. New or better broadband infrastructure might attract new subscribers or encourage existing subscribers to upgrade to faster service," John Horrigan, associate director for research said in the report (PDF). "New (or upgrading) subscribers place demands on communications infrastructure, which in turn may require more workers to serve them."

Horrigan believes that many existing broadband customers will jump at the chance to get faster service, even if that means paying more.

However, it remains to be seen who will take government funds and incentives when the help comes with network neutrality conditions that have yet to be defined by a brand new Federal Communications Commission leader.

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