Millions of Americans Lack Access to Broadband's Economic Benefits

Millions of Americans lack access to broadband Internet.America may have invented the Internet, but more than 100 million American lack access to broadband and its accompanying economic benefits, according to a new report from the Federal Communications Commission.

Some 26 million Americans in largely rural areas across the nation lack high-speed connections to the Internet, the FCCs Broadband Progress Report to Congress found, cutting them off from broadband-based jobs and other economic opportunities.The report also found one-third of the population -- some 100 million Americans -- that has availability to broadband connections don't subscribe, citing hurdles such as high cost, low digital literacy and privacy concerns.

The lack of broadband access is particularly pronounced among the poor, African-Americans, Hispanics, seniors and residents of Tribal areas. Limited broadband capacity in schools and libraries, the report adds, represents another worrying indicator that high-speed access is unavailable for far too many Americans.

"Without action by the FCC in partnership with the states and the private sector, prospects for broadband service in many of the areas cited in the report will remain unacceptably low," the report stated.

These statistics underscore America's woeful performance in terms of high-speed Internet access compared to the rest of the world. According to a 2008 study by Strategy Analytics, America ranks 20th in global broadband household penetration, just below Belgium and slightly better than Slovenia.

Only 60% percent of U.S. households enjoy broadband connections, the study found, compared to 95% in top-ranked South Korea, 85% in the Netherlands (3rd on the list), 75% in Norway (10th) and 65% in the United Arab Emirates (15th).

Broadband, the FCC report emphasized, can help jumpstart the listless economy by creating thousands of new jobs for Americans in the coming years, including more than 200,000 jobs through investment in 4G wireless technologies alone.

The burgeoning new "apps economy," the report says, is already employing tens of thousands of developers and companies, including job-creating start-ups attracting scads of private investment.

And despite the economic devastation wrought by the Great Recession, the report cites progress among both the private and public sectors in extending broadband access.

Business, it says, continues to invest tens of billions of dollars in broadband infrastructure annually -- including $65 billion in 2010 alone -- expanding network capacity, increasing speeds and deploying next-generation mobile services like 4G.

As for government efforts, the Telecommunications Act of 1996 directed the FCC to take immediate action to accelerate broadband deployment when it is not "reasonable and timely." Since first reporting that finding to Congress in 2010, the FCC says it has taken the following actions to accelerate the deployment and adoption of broadband:

  • Reforming the E-rate program to provide schools and libraries higher-capacity, lower-cost Internet access.
  • Launching a "Learning On-the-Go" pilot program at schools and libraries nationwide to promote the use of digital textbooks and mobile Internet access for learning outside the classroom.
  • Launching a Broadband Acceleration Initiative to remove barriers and increase deployment of robust, affordable broadband.
  • Encouraging the deployment of broadband to under-served communities.
  • Unleashing additional spectrum for wireless broadband.

The FCC says it "continues to aggressively pursue its broadband agenda, which is crucial to job creation and America's global competitiveness."
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