The FCC's plan to bring the Internet to the poor

The FCC's plan to bring the Internet to the poor

Summary: The FCC's "Connect to Compete" plans on bringing the Internet to the U.S.'s poor.

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I know about poor. I grew up in the backwoods of West Virginia. I was lucky. I had several gifts and made the most of my chances. Thus, I was able to move from a dirt road to Manhattan skyscrapers in a few years. Most poor people don't get that kind of shot. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has decided to help today's poverty-stricken youth get their chance to move up by unveiling a plan to bring broadband Internet connections to eligible low-income families, Connect to Compete.

Working in partnership with National Cable & Telecommunications Association (NCTA) ISPs the FCC has arranged for poor families to get broadband Internet connections, without an installation/activation fee and no modem rental fees (with an option to purchase a $10 modem) for $9.95 a month. Eligibility for Connect to Compete will be limited to households that have a child enrolled in the national school lunch program and that are not current or recent broadband subscribers.

According to the NCTA, “Broadband is an increasingly integral part of getting a quality education, yet too few of the most needy kids have the service at home. Research shows the barriers to broadband adoption involve a complex mix of digital literacy, perceived relevance of online content, and access to low-cost computers and Internet service. Compete to Compete is the largest private sector initiative ever to address one key prong of the adoption problem: getting broadband Internet into the homes of students where the adoption problem is most acute. [It] can give millions more students the tools to do homework at home and to develop the skills they will need to find a job in the 21st Century economy.”

In a statement FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski expanded on this theme, “There is a growing divide between the digital-haves and have-nots. No Less than one-third of the poorest Americans have adopted broadband, while 90%+ of the richest have adopted it. Low-income Americans, rural Americans, seniors, and minorities disproportionately find themselves on the wrong side of the digital divide and excluded from the $8 trillion dollar global Internet economy."

You'll get no argument from me on that point. Tomorrow's good jobs are technology jobs. Basic technology literacy is as important as reading, writing and arithmetic was to earlier generations. When I say “technology literacy,” I'm not talking about being able to program in C. I'm talking about simply know how to use a Web browser and how to send an e-mail.

As Genachowski points out, 80%+ of Fortune 500 companies require online job applications, including major employers such as Wal-Mart, Target, Costco, and ExxonMobil. Increasingly, if you're not on the net you can't effectively apply to go to college or get a job.

How much of a difference does Internet access make? A lot. Genachowski cited a Federal Reserve study that “found that students with a PC and broadband at home have six to eight percentage point higher graduation rates than similar student who don’t have home access to the Internet.”

I expect that the gap between those with access to the Internet and technology and those without will only increase. For example, libraries are beginning to close their doors to patrons without e-readers. Oh, it's early days still, but you can see the trend against physical books and the buildings that hold them starting from here. You may be OK with that... if you have a e-reader and an Internet connection.

In short, we, the people of America, need Internet access for all and Connect to Compete is a step in that direction.

Related Stories: CodeNow teaching tech skills to underrepresented youth

Digital Underclass 2: The future of books and libraries (PODCAST)

Digital Underclass: What Happens When the Libraries Die?

Topics: Broadband, Browser, Government, Government US, Networking, Telcos, IT Employment

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33 comments
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  • Great article, Steven

    I can only hope that there is no 'fine print' in this broadband program which specifies that the price will double after 6 months and will double again after 1 year.<br><br>I am also hopeful for an article dealing with "access to low-cost computers" from you in the near future. Perhaps, on the Linux and Open-Source blog.
    Rabid Howler Monkey
    • RE: The FCC's plan to bring the Internet to the poor

      @Rabid Howler Monkey "Low cost computers for school is on the way already. Raspberry PI project should be available by December. http://www.geek.com/articles/chips/raspberry-pi-planning-incremental-launch-of-25-pc-in-december-2011112/
      xtanmanx
    • RE: The FCC's plan to bring the Internet to the poor

      @Rabid Howler Monkey
      what about "fine print" that everybody else picks up the bill for that
      in a form of additional regulator charge added to your phone/cable/.. you fill the blank.. bill as it is now with telcos
      vl1969
      • RE: The FCC's plan to bring the Internet to the poor

        @vl1969 Yes, new pass-thru tax line items like the old telco Universal Service Fee are coming as the FCC switches focus to the new Connect America Fund for expanding broadband to rural areas. As for carriers passing on Connect to Compete charges to broadband customers, it does explain why my TWC broadband internet-only service price was just upped about 10% ($5/mo) for extremely nebulous reasons in a neighborhood where I have lots of carrier choice.
        JavaJobber
  • RE: The FCC's plan to bring the Internet to the poor

    It is a step in the right direction, but it is just as important to bring broadband to rural America. I live within 50 miles of the nation's capital and we still cannot get decent broadband. The only semi-broadband we have available is either unreliable and limited satellite or unreliable cell modems - both of which are limited in speed and download amounts. Both are also very pricey compared to cable, DSL, or FIOS.
    RadarBob
  • RE: The FCC's plan to bring the Internet to the poor

    I don't understand how this will help poor seniors, most of whom are not likely to have children enrolled in the national school lunch program. Wouldn't a simple income limit provide a more broad based eligibility test? I also agree with RadarBob on the rural issue.
    MikeyrInFL
    • RE: The FCC's plan to bring the Internet to the poor

      @MikeyrInFL This is not for the gross poverty of America. This is an investment in our future which is our kids.
      xtanmanx
  • RE: The FCC's plan to bring the Internet to the poor

    I am all for going paperless (we all know the many benefits) in the schools. The technology is available to do so. So is the technology to provide free Internet service. With the 4G outbreak, WISPs are going to be a more viable solution for many users, even those not in school. Unfortunately, the government (as usual) is fixing a 10 year old issue with solutions from 5 years ago without the forethought of future issues. My first thought would be to have these $40 & $50K a year tuition schools chip in to help. We all know Education in the US is one of the most screwed up issues there is. Luckily there are people like Eben Upton that see the need for ALL students to have computers.
    xtanmanx
    • RE: The FCC's plan to bring the Internet to the poor

      @xtanmanx ,,, NO, all students do not NEED ccomputers, but all students need ACCESS if they want iit. For many it would be a waste of money regardless of who pays for it. Waste is waste, so some semblence of sanity needs to be retained.
      tom@...
  • Change Article Name

    After reading a few of the replies, I feel that naming the article a little more specifically towards the underprivileged STUDENTS of America might have been a better choice. Being enrolled in a school lunch program (which many programs use this a prequalifier) clearly indicates this move is for students and not just anyone that is using it for recreational purposes. and YES, email is a recreational purpose.
    xtanmanx
    • +1

      @xtanmanx ,,, +1. It seems to be lost effort to get titles to match articles way too often here.

      HTH,

      Twayne`
      tom@...
  • RE: The FCC's plan to bring the Internet to the poor

    Not sure this makes a lot of sense. If you can afford to buy a computer, you can probably afford the 19.95 a month for basic internet access. If you can't afford a computer, discounted internet doesn't do you a whole lot of good. Did I miss something?
    TJWJ
    • RE: The FCC's plan to bring the Internet to the poor

      @TJWJ There are also plans to work in concert with this program to provide very low cost or free computers for those who can't afford that either.
      JimSatterfieldW
    • RE: The FCC's plan to bring the Internet to the poor

      @TJWJ ,,,
      Computer = $400 one time spend.
      $20/month = $400 EVERY YEAR. Big difference in expenditures there. Ever hear of ROI?
      tom@...
    • RE: The FCC's plan to bring the Internet to the poor

      @TJWJ Not everyone buys their own computer. I have, on a few occasions, gave my own computers to family members when I built a new PC. Also, I have obtained used computers, repaired and upgraded them and then gave them away to friends. Some charity organizations do this as well. So since I have done it, and charity organizations have done it, I can safely say many others have done it.
      jollygreenguy@...
      • Free computers are commonplace

        @jollygreenguy@... You're absolutely right - economy model computers more than a couple years old are worth so little that they're often given away.
        Greenknight_z
  • RE: The FCC's plan to bring the Internet to the poor

    Bringing access to everyone, not just students, would definitely have benefits. Broadband connections would help keep seniors engaged with the world even if their physical limitations prevent them from going out much. In addition it will be more and more useful to keep them in touch with doctors. There is at least one insurance system that uses connected medical devices to constantly monitor at risk patients for sudden changes in weight or blood pressure to help head off emergencies. The devices are wireless but think how much easier if they only needed WiFi to a broadband connection.
    JimSatterfieldW
  • RE: The FCC's plan to bring the Internet to the poor

    And it would also be useful for job retraining for those who can no longer afford a full plan after losing their job. It goes on and on.
    JimSatterfieldW
  • RE: The FCC's plan to bring the Internet to the poor

    HORSE HOCKEY!
    propagandhi
  • RE: The FCC's plan to bring the Internet to the poor

    One more step for Big Brother to locate and catalog everybody. Might be good for finding deadbeat parents and those with warrants, but could easily turn into an invasion of privacy. Plenty of room for legitimate and nefarious uses.
    JMCStark