PublishedJune 22, 2010

Stimulating Bridges to Broadband

new report from the Pew Center on States suggests that the biggest obstacle to bringing broadband Internet to Americans may just be Americans themselves. While the majority of Americans currently have access to broadband at home, suppliers are struggling to successfully bring higher speeds to rural areas and regions with lower incomes. The report suggests that about 35% of citizens cannot afford broadband, do not know how to use it, or find it irrelevant to their lives. The report surmises that it’s this lack of accessibility that has allowed the U.S. to slip in the global broadband per capita rankings from number one in the year 2000 to 15th just last year.

Affordability is chief among the concerns for the spread of broadband Internet. When the U.S. was #1 in 2000, most Americans could get acceptable Internet access using regulated dial-up or DSL phone lines. Since that time,deregulation of Internet access providers has driven up industry profits, a major benefit that companies are hesitant to risk losing by expanding to rural communities. The result? A growing disparity in high-speed Internet access, with wealthy urban and suburban neighborhoods on one end and inner city and rural areas on the other. Consumers and companies alike have now turned to the government to stimulate both supply and demand for broadband.
As Pew Center on the States Deputy Director Lori Grange said today in unveiling the report, “Broadband access is about much more than getting on YouTube.” High-speed Internet access fosters economic growth, the creation of jobs, and global competitiveness for the United States. In many ways, the broadband revolution is akin to the electric revolution. Its growth is subject to local and cultural constraints and attitudes, which is why states and state governments are instrumental to the progression of high-speed Internet access.
CCIA has advocated for public policies to support the broadband revolution since its inception, encouraging greater access to open networks, improved productivity, and economic growth. Grange pointed to the inspiring efforts of North Carolina, which has developed an array of private-public partnerships through an innovative state grant program. In 2007 and 2008 alone, the state’se-NC Authority gave out over $2 million in grants, resulting in educational advancement by connecting 15 school systems to broadband, progression in medical technology by improving Internet and network speeds in 10 regional hospitals, and the expansion of high-speed access to 10 of the most underserved counties in the state. These results are a testament to the efforts of local officials and what that can mean for online access and economic growth. And now, while the government continues to distribute $7.2 billion worth of stimulus funds in support of universal broadband, the ball is in the states’ court.
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