Everybody Surfs in Universal Broadband Campaign

Internet for Everyone, a new public interest group pushing for universal broadband access in the United States, launched this week with a press conference that made the case for expanding broadband reach to rural and low-income areas and households.

During an opening conference in New York last week, a wide array of speakers from business, government and academia pressed for the United States to adopt a national broadband policy that would make affordable, high-quality broadband Internet access as ubiquitous as telephone service. Stanford University law professor Larry Lessig said that broadband in the United States should be seen as a social infrastructure project that the government could help build out in places where ISPs have so far failed to build out high-speed networks.

"This is the first time we've tried to undertake the fundamental building of social infrastructure against the background of a Neanderthal philosophy which is that we don't need government to do it," he said. "And it's about time... that people recognize that the private sector has a vital role to play, but that it's never enough."

David All, a Republican Web 2.0 consultant who blogs about technology issues regularly at TechRepublican.com, made a business case for spreading high-speed Web infrastructure to rural areas, arguing that it would spur small business growth in areas that are currently underserved by broadband access. Noting that the vast majority of areas without high-speed Internet access come from rural areas, All said that it would be vital to expand the reach of broadband to help entrepreneurs from traditionally Republican states keep up with their competition.

"Seventy percent of high school students want to be entrepreneurs, and that's the highest number it's ever been," said All, referring to a Harris Interactive survey. "And they're not thinking about starting a barber shop. They're thinking about starting a Facebook, and they're out there trying to be creative and clever."

Zipcar founder Robin Chase made similar points about the Web's ability to fuel business growth, and noted that her own business would not exist without widespread access to the Internet.

"Internet access is required for full participation in society today -- maybe it's not as basic as water, but it's as basic as hot water," she said. "There's no participation in our society today without Internet access, and we can't innovate appropriately without these things."

The divide between urban and rural broadband access in the United States has been an oft-discussed topic for years now. A recent report issued by CDN vendor Akamai, for instance, showed that 62% of U.S. Internet connections achieved maximum speeds of 2Mbps or higher, good for only 24th in the world. The study found that many of the states that had higher percentages of slow connections (256Kbps or less) are geographically larger and have lower population density than the states with the highest percentage of fast connections. Washington (21%) is the state with the highest percentage of slow connections, followed by Virginia (18%). Other states with slow broadband connection percentages include the District of Columbia (17%), Georgia (15%), Illinois (15%), Texas (13%), Alaska (11%) and Iowa (10%).

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