Bit Rate

Broadband: Millions Can Live Without It

1/23/2009 8:45 AM

Is high-speed Internet access as critical a resource as roads or healthcare?

About $6 billion is set aside for broadband infrastructure development in the House of Representatives version of the Democrats’ proposed $825 billion spending plan to boost the U.S. economy.

Never mind for now that many observers believe $6 billion in loans and grants isn’t enough to have much effect on broadband deployment.

Also disregard the fact that the House bill includes a requirement that the networks provide “open access,” which the legislation does not define (leaving it up to the FCC to interpret). That’s a string attached that analysts said would almost surely discourage incumbent providers from applying for the funds. There is also an unrealistic requirement that 75% of the funds go toward networks that provide access speeds of 45 Mbps or more.

A bigger issue may be that a fairly large number of people don’t think they need broadband.

About 51% of Americans who don’t have high-speed Internet service — 16% of all adults — are simply uninterested in obtaining it, according to John Horrigan, associate director for research for the Pew Internet & American Life Project.

“When half of dial-up and non-users cite reasons such as ‘not interested’ or ‘nothing could get me to switch,’ it seems clear that networked digital resources do not play enough of a role in their lives to justify a broadband connection,” Horrigan wrote in a report posted Wednesday titled “Stimulating Broadband: If Obama builds it, will they log on?”

It’s laudable that lawmakers are encouraging the buildout of broadband to everyone who wants it. Indeed, Horrigan notes that 24% of dial-up users say they cannot even get broadband service in their area. But the cart shouldn’t come before the horse, and the goal of any broadband subsidies should be to provide the biggest benefit to the largest number of people who will actually pay for commercial high-speed Net services in the years ahead.

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