FCC Chair Announces New Task Force To Hasten Adoption of Broadband in U.S.

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Federal Communications Commission Chairman Julius Genachowski June 15 announced the creation of a new agency task force to broaden the national penetration of broadband in the United States. The FCC's Broadband Adoption Task Force, which will be led by Genachowski's senior counselor Josh Gottheimer, will work across the agency and with industry to develop strategies to close the broadband gap.

In a question-and-answer-style interview at the Cable Show 2011 in Chicago with former FCC Chairman Michael Powell, the new president and CEO of the National Cable and Telecommunications Association, Genachowski underscored the importance of bringing online Americans who currently have access to a broadband internet service but have chosen not to subscribe.

“As an industry, you've connected two-thirds of Americans to broadband—and I applaud you for that. Now, let's work together to connect the last third—nearly 100 million people—so all Americans can participate fully in our 21st century economy and society,” Genachowski said.

“The broadband adoption gap is still there. Our 67 percent adoption rate compares to a 90 percent adoption rate in Singapore,” he said.

Surveys Show Stubborn Problem

Based on surveys conducted by both agencies, less than a third of the poorest Americans subscribe to broadband, while nearly 90 percent of the nation's more prosperous individuals do. The FCC and NTIA attribute non-adoption rates to, among other things, cost, low education, and a lack of digital literacy.

According to a 2010 FCC survey, less than half of the adults with high school degrees are broadband users at home, while 82 percent of adults who have attended or graduated from college use broadband at home. More than half of Americans in households with annual incomes of $50,000 or below have broadband service at home, compared with 87 percent of those in households with incomes above that level.

In that same study, the FCC found that nearly 25 percent of non-adopters of broadband are “uncomfortable with computers” and said they lack the necessary skill sets needed to surf the web. Another 19 percent questioned the relevance of broadband to their lives. Some said the internet is a “waste of time” while the dial-up internet users surveyed said they are content with their current services (34 TCM, 2/23/10).

Another study, by the Digital Impact Group and Econsult Corporation, estimates that the direct economic cost to the nation of non-adoption is $55 billion a year.

By Paul Barbagallo