WASHINGTON, June 17, 2009 – The effort to increase broadband adoption has mainly focused on increasing broadband access and availability to drive demand, this may not be enough to increase broadband adoption.
That was the message that non-profit representatives and a consulting firm agreed upon in a panel discussion, titled “Making Broadband Affordable for All Americans,” and hosted by the Internet Innovation Alliance at the Washington Newseum on Wednesday.
While broadband access availability is rapidly increasing, adoption is not following at the same rate due to lack of affordable computer equiptment, hardware and installation challenges, and digital illiteracy among potential consumers.
Howie Hodges, senior vice president of business development and government affairs at the non-profit One Economy Corporation, said to correct this problem, the Universal Service Fund should be reformed to include broadband. Further, the federal tax system should incentivize the application and adoption of broadband for providers and consumers, he said.
In order to increase availability among low-income people, said Hodges, the Department of Housing and Urban Development should be required to included broadband installations in all renovations to public housing.
Focusing on installing broadband to affordable housing will accelerate broadband affordability for low income people, he said.
Additionally, many do not find internet content relevant to their every day lives. In order to get more minorities and low-income people interested in broadband, One Economy makes content searchable in multiple languages and has created a series of media projects making the content “interesting and fun,” he said.
Sylvia Aguilera, director of the Hispanic Technology and Telecommunications Partnership, focused on providing free broadband access to those who cannot afford it, as well as promoting wider usage through broadband education.
Aguilera recommended promoting interest in broadband by providing culturally relevant content and bringing it to “non-traditional” locations, such as laundramats.
It is also important to “engage people in the community” by tying broadband together with education, healthcare, and other things that involve civic participation, she said.
Craig Settles, founder and president of Successful.com, agreed with Hodges and Aguilera on the importance of increasing broadband affordability, awareness, and relevancy.
“Access is not the Holy Grail,” said Settles, “it’s what you do with the access that makes the difference.” In order to deploy broadband to those who need it most, it “must be run as a business,” he said.
Settles stressed the importance of local, rather than national, implementation of network development, because what may be practical in one community may not be in another community.
Community involvement is important, said Settles, because “they are the ones most affected” and therefore best understand their own needs. While Washington helps local communities put frameworks for network development into place, the local government must be the “driving force,” he said.
Settles also spoke on the importance of making sure people know how to use the new technology. If large amounts of money are spent to deploy technology, but not enough people adopt it due to lack of digital literacy, it will be financially unsustainable, he said.
Further, if people are simply given broadband for free, said Settles, they will not appreciate it. To remedy this problem, people who are digitally literate should be employed to teach those who are not how to use this technology, he said.