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Architect of National Broadband Plan Says Changes Needed to Expand Broadband Access in Poor and Rural Communities
Mar 03, 2011 (03:03 PM EST)


WASHINGTON, March 3, 2011 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Nearly a year after the issuance of the National Broadband Plan (NBP), the plan's lead architect told a policy gathering on Wednesday that the Federal Communications Commission did not take the right approach to increasing broadband adoption among low-income households, and that it should be changed.

Blair Levin, who was Executive Director of the Omnibus Broadband Initiative at the FCC during the NBP's formulation and now serves as Society Fellow at the Aspen Institute, said that the plan should not have counted on transitioning the Universal Service Fund (USF) as its core strategy for expanding broadband access in for poor and rural households in underserved areas.  The USF currently provides subsidies to support basic monthly telephone service and initial installation or activation fees through the Lifeline/Link-up programs.

"Having wrestled with this problem for another year, I now believe the best thing we can do to enable more low-income households to get connected to broadband is not to expand the existing Lifeline/Link-up program, but rather to phase it out and build a broadband program on a different foundation," Levin said.

Levin made his comments at a Washington forum, "The National Broadband Plan and the Underserved – One Year Later," sponsored by the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, a think tank that focuses on issues concerning people of color.  Edward Lazarus, Chief of Staff to Chairman Julius Genachowski at the Federal Communications Commission also delivered opening remarks.

The event included a panel of media and technology experts who discussed the nation's progress on expanding broadband services to underserved communities.

Mandated by Congress under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, the National Broadband Plan received widespread praise as the nation's first large-scale strategy for achieving affordability and maximizing use of broadband across all segments of society.

In reflecting on the broadband plan's success, Lazarus noted the President's State of the Union address included several references to high-speed Internet as essential to America's economic growth and competitiveness. Further, the President's budget endorsed three of the National Broadband Plan's "most important initiatives" including incentive auctions to repurpose spectrum, reforming the Universal Service Program, and funding an interoperability public safety broadband network.

Despite these signs of progress, one-third of Americans still do not have broadband access, and African Americans and other people of color continue to lag behind the nation at large in getting online.  Broadband adoption rates among low-income, rural, and disabled Americans also indicate more innovative strategies are needed to close the digital divide.

Panelists noted a number of challenges to adoption, including affordability, the need for computer training, and lack of relevant content for minorities.  Some said spectrum reform is also critical to expanding access especially given the high rates of Internet access via mobile devices by African Americans and Hispanics.

Panelists offered a number of recommendations to increase access and move the broadband plan forward. These included free public education online, targeted outreach and education to minority communities, and public information portals that aggregate content for African American and other communities of color. Panelists agreed that creative solutions are needed to prevent non-adopters from falling behind in the digital age.

"As you prepare for any career, you have to be able to participate in the digital world. Increasingly, it is necessary for full participation in our democratic society," said Ralph B. Everett, President and CEO of the Joint Center. "What would your prospect in life be if you did not have access to the Internet or did not know how to use it?"

To read Blair Levin's speech in its entirety and to hear audio of the event, visit www.jointcenter.org.

The Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies is one of the nation's leading research and public policy institutions and the only one whose work focuses primarily on issues of particular concern to African Americans and other people of color. To learn more, please visit www.jointcenter.org.

SOURCE Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies