Better Broadband Better Lives

California's Lessons Could be Model for Broadband Stimulus, Experts Say

in NTIA/Recovery Act/States by

SAN MATEO, Calif.,  May 11, 2009 - States looking for answers to many questions on how to implement the broadband stimulus program should look to California, said a group of experts Monday during a panel at the Tech Policy Summit on the "state of the state."

M2Z Networks CTO Milo Medin said California's state-based mapping data shows approximately 96% of Californians have access to 1.5 Mbps broadband.  But San Fransisco Digital Inclusion Project Director Emy Tseng said that the number only measures availability of broadband -- not adoption.

Tseng acknowledged the importance of mapping broadband availability and cost in determining adoption rates. But it isn't enough to say "broadband's there, let's move on," she said.  "We need to actively entice citizens to connect."

Adoption could be pushed forward with education applications, Medin said.  He compared a lack of home broadband access to a textbook that can't be brought home from school.   But it's not enough for government to promote connectivity, he said, suggesting that those who are connected need to push those who aren't to get on board.

San Francisco is taking a lead in pushing adoption in low-income communities, Tseng said. Not only are public housing units being equipped with broadband connections by the city, she said, but the city is installing refurbished computers so residents can use those connections.

But availability doesn't equal adoption for applications either, Tseng cautioned.  One example she cited is a San Francisco program in which school offer parent-teacher interactions via the web.  While Tseng called it a "great offering," such programs don't help the 20 percent of low-income families that don't have broadband at home, she said.  And the move of  job postings and applications to "online-only" methods  puts these low-income households at an even further disadvantage, she added.

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