I'm not a fan of big government, but our 'digital divide' must be addressed
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I'm not a fan of big government, but our 'digital divide' must be addressed

On Tuesday, the Federal Communications Commission delivered the National Broadband Plan (http://www.broadband.gov/) to Congress. I wasn't a big fan of the bazillion dollar US stimulus package, nor am I a fan of big government, but our nation's "digital divide" must be addressed.

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (Recovery Act) was signed into law on February 17, 2009. The Broadband Initiatives funded in the Act are intended to accelerate broadband deployment across the United States. The Recovery Act authorizes the FCC to create a National Broadband Plan, that “shall seek to ensure that all people of the United States have access to broadband capability and shall establish benchmarks for meeting that goal.”

We're the only industrialized nation without a national policy to promote universal, high-speed Internet access. Part of the National Broadband Plan looks to free an additional 500 MHz of spectrum for wireless broadband over the next 10 years and transition the Universal Service Fund to broadband, as well as its goal of 90% home broadband adoption by 2020.

According to a 2009 survey commissioned by Supercomm (http://www.Supercomm2009.com), the telecommunications industry's trade show hosted by TIA and US Telecom, nearly 70% of all respondents believe uninterrupted broadband access should be as readily available as other utilities like electricity and water. And if we're spending money hand over fist in this country, I'd certainly like to see some of the moolah used to help make Americans more productive and competitive in the global marketplace.

This sentiment spreads almost evenly across all ages, race, income brackets and geographic lines.
Additionally, the Supercomm study, which involved over 1,000 respondents, suggests that faster broadband delivery speeds improve workplace productivity. More than half of respondents believe faster broadband access positively impacts productivity at the workplace.

As a majority of respondents believe uninterrupted access is essential, an overwhelming 75% of respondents between the ages of 18-34 want to see broadband available like other utility services. Also, almost 80% of respondents in the same age group believe faster broadband speeds improve productivity at work. This group represents those who have grown up with computers and Internet access as part of their daily lives from an early age. The Supercomm findings suggest that as younger generations enter the workforce this will become even more critical, giving companies with better broadband access a considerable competitive edge to attract and retain talent.

There's no denying that broadband is at the core of how many of us live and work today. From simply checking emails and shopping online to utilizing advanced broadband technologies for applications in healthcare, education and business, Supercomm's survey findings underscore the fact that the world has taken on a "broadband life" mentality, says Jan Maciejewski, managing director, Supercomm.

The study, conducted on behalf of Supercomm by Opinion Research Corporation, included a telephone survey among a national probability sample of 1,002 adults comprising 501 men and 501 women 18 years of age and older, living in private households in the continental U.S. Interviewing for this survey was completed during the period Aug. 13-16.

What's more, a 2008 nationwide study of Internet connection speeds in the United States revealed little progress over the previous year in the country's median data download speed. At the present rate --- with a gain of only four-tenths of one megabit per second -- it will take the U.S. more than one hundred years to catch up with current Internet speeds in Japan, according to the study.

The 2008 report was based on aggregated data from nearly 230,000 Internet users who took an online "Speed Matters Speed Test," a project of the Communications Workers of America (CWA). The Speed Test, which measures the last-mile speed of a user's Internet connection, showed that the median real-time download speed in the U.S. is a mere 2.3 megabits per second (mbps). The best available estimates showed average download speeds in Japan of 63 mbps, in South Korea of 49 mbps and in France of 17 mbps. That means the same multimedia file that takes four minutes to download in South Korea would take nearly an hour and a half to download in the U.S.

"This isn't about how fast someone can download a full-length movie. Speed matters to our economy and our ability to remain competitive in a global marketplace," said Larry Cohen, president, Communications Workers of America. "Rural development, telemedicine and distance learning all rely on truly high-speed, universal networks."

Finally, the Internet Innovation Alliance (IIA) -- a coalition of business and non-profit organizations -- says that broadband access is "vital to life and commerce in America" and must be an "early and high-level priority" for the administration.

"We are at a critical moment in our nation’s history," says IIA Co-Chairman Bruce Mehlman. "To compete and win in the 21st century, we must ensure the United States capitalizes on the extraordinary economic, technological and societal opportunities presented by broadband. The benefits are undeniable and compelling."

Among the benefits more recently identified by the IIA:

° A 7% increase in broadband adoption could result in US$134 billion per year in total direct economic benefit to the American economy. (ConnectedNation)

° For every 1% increase in broadband adoption, 293,000 permanent private sector jobs are created. (The Brookings Institution)

° Broadband-based remote monitoring for all chronically ill patients could reduce hospital, outpatient, and drug expenses by 3%-- reducing overall health care expenses for the U.S. by roughly 25% or about $350 billion annually. (Robert E. Litan with Criterion Economics)

° Wide adoption and use of broadband can achieve a net reduction of one billion tons of greenhouse gas over 10 years, which, if converted to energy saved, would constitute 11% of annual U.S. oil imports. (American Consumer Institute).

-- Dennis Sellers

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