Broadband Stimulus

Having broadband Internet connections more readily available is good for the country, and the stimulus package will lend a hand:

President Obama signed into law on Tuesday the $787 billion stimulus package, which includes $7.2 billion for broadband grant and loan programs.

Both the House of Representatives and the Senate on Friday approved a conference report that reconciled the two chambers’ versions of the bill.

The bulk of the funds directed at broadband–$4.7 billion–will be distributed through a program run by the Commerce Department, while $2.5 billion will fall under the jurisdiction of the Agriculture Department, giving particular emphasis to broadband deployment in rural areas.

The final version of the bill maintains that projects funded by the Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration must adhere to nondiscrimination and openness principles. The funds must also be distributed before September 30, 2010, to projects that can be completed within two years.

The NTIA’s “Broadband Technology Opportunities Program” is intended to “award competitive grants to accelerate broadband deployment in unserved and underserved areas and to strategic institutions that are likely to create jobs or provide significant public benefits,” the bill says.

Maybe this is what WiMAX needs to really get going, especially in rural areas. Wildblue and other Internet-via-satellite services are meeting the need, but many are unwilling to pay upwards of $50 per month for service.

Having broadband Internet is an indispensable resource for all — not just businesses — and something most are not willing to sacrifice in order to cut costs during the current economic climate. Subsidizing broadband roll-out to under-served areas of the country will bring it closer to being what it should be: an entitlement for every U.S. citizen.

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We The Internet

Should Internet access be an entitlemet? I think it should be and some day, it will. The President’s plan to make it available everywhere may be challenged by preferences expressed by those who are supposed to benefit. Maybe they don’t get it — or just don’t care.

Today’s Washington Post has a piece on a report issued by the Pew Internet & American Life Project. Broadband costs more, and that’s holding people back:

According to the survey, 13 percent of non-users said they don’t use the Internet or e-mail because they can’t access broadband. Nine percent of those surveyed said they find e-mail and the Internet too difficult to use, 7 percent said they are too busy or don’t have time, and 4 percent said they don’t have access to a computer.

For those with dial-up Internet access, 35 percent said prices for broadband — which average $34.50 a month — would have to go down for them to upgrade to high-speed cable, fiber-optic, or DSL Internet service, according to the survey.

“The problem with price has to do with competition,” said Andrew Schwartzman, president of public access group Media Access Project. Schwartzman said that users are typically forced to choose between two to three options for high-speed Internet service.

The nonprofit group One Economy has urged lawmakers to include provisions in a stimulus plan that would renovate public housing so that all units in a building would have access to a shared data network, thereby reducing monthly costs per home by several dollars a month.

What if the FCC frees up so-called “white spaces” of radio spectrum and use it for free Internet access? Great idea. Finally, a modern version of the Minitel — only wireless.

Interesting results:

What is the MAIN reason you don’t use the internet or email?
(asked of non-users) Non-internet users = 25% of all adults
% of non-users     % of all adults
Not interested in getting online         33%             8.3%
Can’t get access                                      13%             3.3%
Difficult                                                   9%             2.3%
Other reason                                          9%             2.3%
Too expensive                                        7%             1.8%
Too busy/no time                                 7%             1.8%
Waste of time                                        7%             1.8%
Don’t have computer                          4%             1.0%
Too old to learn                                   3%             0.8%
Physically unable                                3%             0.8%