One of the most wonderful things about the Internet is that it creates a more level playing field for most people, not unlike the public library (but on steroids). Whether you live in a bustling metropolis or a tiny Midwestern town, are rich or poor, have the latest iOS device or an old second-hand desktop someone gave you, you can email, connect with people over social networks, research, play, or view or download a free video tutorial on Carnatic music from a French Website.
It’s a beautiful thing--as long you have high-speed Internet access. That little detail is an insurmountable obstacle for many, be it because of geography or the high cost of Internet access. The FCC
views that inequality as a major problem with a solution, just as it did telephone service so many years ago.
In an address to a public school in Washington, D.C., FCC chairman Julius Genachowski outlined the problems with a lack of broadband
Internet adoption and what the FCC is doing about it in the form of the “Connect to Compete” program.
According to Genachowski (pictured at left), a third of Americans do not have broadband Internet in their homes; among higher-income Americans, however, the adoption rate is at about 90%, whereas just 46% of lower-income families have broadband. He pointed out that connected individuals can save thousands of dollars a year with online discounts and coupons, and connected kids graduate at a higher percentage rate than other students. This is not to mention that many companies require online job applications, and trying to get a post-high school education without Internet access at the ready is like tilting at windmills.
In order to close that gap, the FCC and many industry partners are offering broadband Internet access to needy families for $9.95 per month (with tax) for two years. There will be no installation, activation, or modem rental fees (although customers can buy a modem for $10), and the service must have at least 1Mbps performance.
To qualify for the program, a family must have at least one child enrolled in the Free School Lunch Program. The family also must not be a current broadband customer and can’t have any unpaid broadband bills or unreturned equipment on the books for that service provider.
Participating ISPs include Bend Cable, Bright House Networks, Cablevision, Charter,
Comcast (via Internet Essentials), Cox Communications, Eagle Communications, GCI, Insight, Mediacom, Midcontinent, Sjoberg’s Cable, Suddenlink, and Time Warner Cable.
Another benefit of the program is that qualified families can purchase a reasonably powerful laptop or desktop computer for $150 (plus tax) from refurbisher Redemtech. The offer includes free shipping, 90 days of phone tech support, a year of software support, and a 90-day extendable warranty. Related to the program, Microsoft is developing a $250 education PC with its partners that includes Microsoft Office software.
The Connect to Compete program will begin this spring and continue to roll out nationwide by September 2012, eventually reaching all 50 states with an 86% penetration rate.
An estimated 15-25 million Americans will be covered by this plan. It’s a huge step up for many Americans, although going by the FCC’s own numbers, there are at least 75 million more people that still need help on the broadband access front.