By Michael Powell & Harold Ford - 12/09/09 12:17 PM EST
These are problems that can be solved, in part, with better information systems. To do it, we need a top tier information infrastructure that reaches everyone and a collective commitment to use it in ways that better our lives and our communities. We need Broadband.
This is why the two of us have come together to serve as honorary co-chairs of Broadband for America (BfA). We join over 100 organizations and companies that have come together with a single focus; we believe deeply that spurring broadband deployment, improving adoption and enhancing skills and training is critical if America hopes to remain a strong, prosperous country of equal opportunity.
Many Americans have a choice of broadband Internet in their homes—providers have been investing at a rate of more than $60 billion per year—but too many communities still lack adequate high-speed service. Even more troubling is that among those who have broadband Internet available but do not subscribe, half say they do not see why it is relevant to their lives. The societal disadvantages of being disconnected, however, are mounting.
If you need a job, you will increasingly need broadband. Three of four Fortune 500 companies won’t even think about hiring you today unless you apply online. If you have school age kids, any promise of strong academic achievement depends upon broadband. Seventy percent of students use the Internet for their homework.
Managing your health and any hope of controlling health care expenses will depend on access to broadband Internet. Six in ten Americans now go online for information about their health care. Broadband can reduce hospitalization by 20% through home monitoring, bringing better health care at a lower cost.
If you care about protecting future generations from the adverse effects of climate change, you need broadband today. A broadband-enabled smart electricity grid could generate as much as $40 billion of economic value each year and cut carbon dioxide emissions by 480 million metric tons, saving money, energy and our environment.
A Federal Communications Commission Task Force, working on a National Broadband Plan, has identified these and many other reasons for making broadband a national priority. We need to bring together the best ideas on how to get more Americans online.
Here, we can look to effective programs in the U.S. and abroad. South Korea offers free training, ongoing technical support and heavily discounted computers, programs that have helped to triple the number of homes connected. In the U.S., organizations like One Economy are reaching low-income teens and making them broadband-savvy, then sending them into their local communities to proselytize the power of broadband. We also need to take a fresh look at the system we’ve used for decades to subsidize basic phone service for low-income and rural consumers, and figure out how to make it more targeted and efficient for a broadband age.
To fully realize the benefits for our society, it is not enough that broadband Internet be available to some, it needs to reach the home of every American. Even will all of the billions already spent on broadband in the U.S., it will take much more to realize our goal of getting all Americans online. The FCC Task Force estimates that building out next generation networks will cost as much as $350 billion. As several governors told the FCC recently, every policy decision needs to be weighed by the impact it will have on these investments being made by private companies. For years and on a bipartisan basis, the U.S. has placed its bet on competition and private investment. It is unrealistic to believe government can invest the vast sums required in a fiscally constrained era, and we believe finding ways to spur, and not inhibit private investment will and should remain the cornerstone of public policy.
In an Internet-powered economy, an interconnected citizenry is essential. The important work the FCC is doing in the areas of broadband deployment and adoption is vital to our nation’s recovery and future strength.
We have joined with a national coalition to build public interest and enthusiasm in the broadband future, and to highlight the type of public policies, partnerships and programs that are most likely to get us there. We believe that every proposed policy idea should be weighed against this measure: will it generate more investment and innovation in broadband networks, and will it get more Americans connected? If we stay focused and pull together, the American public will reap the benefits.
Cross-posted on Congress Blog