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06/08/2009

Report: Broadband Adoption Efforts Must Eliminate "Access Barrier"

By: John Eggerton, Broadcasting & Cable

Broadband adoption efforts need more money and more data. That appeared to be the bottom line of a report released Monday and drawn from a February summit on how broadband policy can best "advance the interests and needs of communities and color," with a focus on "socially, financially, or culturally" disadvantaged populations.

The summit was a collaboration of five host organizations: the National Urban League, National Council of La Raza, the Asian American Justice Center, Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, and the Minority Media and Telecommunications Council. Its goal was to produce policy recommendations for the Obama administration, which has made broadband adoption one of the keys to its economic recovery plan.

The summit, and the report's overarching concern, was for spurring adoption where there is already available and affordable broadband service--what they called "eliminating the 'access' barrier." And the report argues that the $250 million set aside for adoption in the economic stimulus package should be a floor not a ceiling.

In that goal, the groups sponsoring the summit are in tune with cable and phone network operators, who have also focused on adoption as a key to the broadband rollout.

Among the barriers, the report says, are a lack of understanding of the benefits of broadband, lack of technical knowledge and training ("digital literacy"), dearth of relevant content, language barriers, privacy concerns and other "culturally-specific" factors.

To overcome that, the report says, the government, industry and groups like their own need to "paint a vision" of broadband not as a luxury, but as a necessity for participation in society.

Putting their muscle where their mouth is, the summit groups pledged to help industry stakeholders develop a Broadband Adoption Program that would demonstrate to their target population how their lives would be better in five years as a result of broadband adoptions.

One of the key issues of the broadband rollout is whether broadband access should be equated with a certain speed of service.

The report concedes that the topic was a contentious one at the February summit. Some participants suggested trying for a "gold standard" for a threshold speed could be "wasteful" because a tele-health application might be different from e-learning, for example. They did agree that the government needs to study the bandwidth needs of various applications, which include entertainment, education, tele-medicine and energy.

The report is being released the same day as the FCC's deadline for comment on the national broadband plan it must come up with by next February as part of the economic stimulus package. The National Telecommunications & Information Administration and the Agriculture Department are also charged with coming up with guidelines for how and where to hand out $7.2 billion in broadband stimulus money, which includes that $250 million that must be spent on adoption efforts.

 

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