A New Deal for Expanding Broadband Internet Access

Channeling the best of the New Deal in its efforts to jumpstart the economy, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is proposing an ambitious program to bring broadband to every household in America.

At a speech in February at the conference of the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners in Washington, D.C., FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski outlined details of the bold plan. He likened its purpose to that of the Communications Act, signed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1934 when the nation was in the depths of the Great Depression. That landmark policy helped bring affordable access to universal phone service to a nation where previously less than a third of households had enjoyed it.

Drawing a parallel to that transformation, Genachowski pointed out that currently 14 million Americans do not have access to broadband. More than 100 million Americans could or should have broadband access, but do not because they can’t afford it, or they don’t possess the skills or the awareness to use it. Overall, the nation has a dismal 65 percent adoption rate.

Dubbed the “100 Squared” initiative, the goal of the FCC’s program is to provide broadband to 100 million households at a rate of 100 megabits per second, bringing the adoption rate to at least 90 percent.

The FCC hopes to achieve its goal through a variety of steps, all of which will be delivered as a package of recommendations to Congress this spring. The recommendations include improving the highly successful E-Rate program, which brought Internet connections to school classrooms and libraries; modernizing the FCC’s rural telemedicine program to connect thousands of additional clinics; deploying broadband to accelerate a smart grid; developing public-private partnerships to increase Internet adoption and ensure that all children can use the Internet proficiently; freeing up a significant amount of spectrum for ample licensed and unlicensed use; lowering the cost of broadband build-out through the smart use of government rights of way and conduits; and creating an interoperable public safety network to replace the current system. The latter recommendation has been a point of great concern since the 9/11 terrorist attacks and Hurricane Katrina revealed a number of problems in the current patchwork of public safety networks.

In related news, U.S. Department of Commerce Secretary Gary Locke announced 23 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) investments to help bridge the technological divide, boost economic growth, create jobs, and improve education and healthcare cross the country. The grants will increase broadband access and adoption in California, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Maryland, North Carolina, New Mexico, Ohio, Oregon, Puerto Rico, Tennessee, Texas, Wisconsin and West Virginia. The grants, totaling more than $160 million, will lay the groundwork to bring high-speed Internet access to millions of households and businesses and link thousands of schools, hospitals, libraries and public safety offices to the Internet.

“In a globalized 21st century economy, when you don’t have regular access to the Internet, you don’t have access to all the educational and employment opportunities it provides. Fast, reliable Internet can help keep communities safer, open doors for small businesses, and provide job training and skills to more Americans,” Locke said. “Over the long term, enabling our people to create new products and new ways of doing business will help communities throughout the country get onto a sustainable growth path, and that’s what the Recovery Act is all about.”

The Department of Commerce’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration’s (NTIA) Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP), funded by the ARRA, provides grants to support the deployment of broadband infrastructure, enhance and expand public computer centers, and encourage sustainable adoption of broadband service.

Fact sheets with information about all BTOP grants are available at www.ntia.doc.gov/broadbandgrants/projects.html.

About the Author

Rick Laezman

Freelance Writer

Rick Laezman is a Los Angeles-based freelance writer who has been covering renewable power for more than 10 years. He may be reached at richardlaezman@msn.com.

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