FCC Study Underscores Need for Broader Broadband

The FCC reports that 93 million Americans--that's 35 percent of those over age 5--lack broadband access at home. Worse, the digital divide is getting more severe, hurting all of us--especially small businesses.

These 93 million are people who, increasingly, can't talk to us, can't buy from us, can't be our future employees, and, worst of all, will be unable to create value in tomorrow's economy.

That is the upshot of a new FCC survey and study released Tuesday that details what Chairman Julius Genachowski calls "an opportunity divide" across America.

On March 17, the FCC is expected to release a report detailing how connect Americans to universal, affordable broadband, spurring job creation and economic growth. Tuesday's study is presumably a warm-up for what the FCC will propose.

For small-businesses, getting the Internet into every American home must be a top priority, worth sinking our tax money into. You'd think it would be easy to find support for something so obviously pro-business, pro-employment, and pro-education--but just wait and see what the Washington politicians will do to such a proposal. It may be up to individual business people to save it.

Sixty years ago, creating an interstate highway system was a top priority for improving our ability to move value from one place to another. Today, Internet access is even more important, somewhere up there with the road and railroad networks combined.

The FCC study found that the main reason people don't have broadband at home is cost: the monthly fee is too high; a computer costs too much; installation costs too much; and so on. The average monthly broadband fee, according to the FCC, is $41.

More than a fifth of those the FCC surveyed said they lack technology skills, slightly more than found the Internet to be a waste of time. Still every home needs broadband, in part because it makes every home a potential workplace for an employee or start-up entrepreneur.

My take: Universal access broadband--and I mean everywhere--should be a top national priority. Improved communication is key to making America competitive again, to creating new jobs, and making lifelong education available to everyone.

Over $7 billion in stimulus money has already been dedicated to improving Internet access, especially in underserved rural areas.

Some will say this isn't something we can afford, and we don't yet know what the cost will be. But, sight-unseen, if there is a reason to print money we don't have, investing in technology that can empower all Americans may be the best one.

I hope universal broadband is something all our readers will get behind.

David Coursey has been writing about technology products and companies for more than 25 years. He tweets as @techinciter and may be contacted via his Web site.

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