Obama and FCC Betting on Broadband as Stimulus

BY Chris Amico  March 15, 2010 at 5:31 PM EDT

The Federal Communications Commission and the Obama administration will unveil a plan Tuesday to broaden high-speed Internet access in the United States and encourage telecom companies to provide faster download speeds.

The plan comes from a directive in last year’s stimulus package to develop nationwide broadband. The stimulus also set aside funds to increase broadband’s availability and adoption, especially in rural areas.

Ken Eisner of One Economy Corporation recently stopped by the Rundown to discuss the challenges of increasing broadband access across the country.

High-speed Internet is increasingly seen as its own form of stimulus. In a report from the Brookings Institution, a study of 120 nations between 1980 and 2006 estimated that “each 10 percentage point increase in broadband penetration adds 1.3 percent to a high-income country’s gross domestic product.”

In 2008, 50.8 percent of U.S households had broadband, according to the OECD, with a GDP-per-capita just above $46,000.

Bringing penetration to 90 percent, below where South Korea (at 94 percent) is now, would (in theory, following the Brookings report) add almost $2,400 per person in national wealth. (An FCC study, done in 2009, found that 65 percent of Americans use broadband at home.)

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There are, of course, costs to expanding access: Infrastructure must be paid for. Americans who don’t already have high-speed connections often lack computer literacy, are worried about online identity theft or simply can’t afford to pay another monthly bill, the FCC has found.

Julius Genachowski, head of the FCC and the man in charge of implementing a broadband plan, called for a “national commitment” to increased speed and access in a Sunday Washington Post op-ed:

  • First, to ensure opportunity, every American should have access to all essential broadband services at home.

  • Second, to ensure that we have the advanced networks we need to empower American businesses, we must substantially increase the capabilities of our networks. This means driving toward one gigabit to every community in America, through libraries, schools and community colleges; and creating the world’s largest market for affordable, very high-speed broadband — a “100 Squared” initiative of affordable 100 megabits per second to 100 million households — so that inventors around the world will flock to our platform.

  • Third, to ensure that we capture the next wave of change, we must lead the world in the speed and reach of our mobile networks.

  • Fourth, to ensure the safety of Americans, every first responder must have access to a nationwide, wireless, interoperable broadband public safety network.

We’ll have more from Genachowski on Monday’s NewsHour.