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Broadband Speeds Matter Just as Much as Internet Access, Say New Yorkers

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NEW YORK, December 13, 2009 – Broadband speeds matter just as much as does internet access, in order to ensure educational, economic and social opportunities for individuals of all incomes and ethnic backgrounds, participants in a community broadband hearing here agreed on Friday.

Policy officials, not-for-profit organizations, small businesses, community-based organizations and others came together Friday for to discuss how New York fits into the national broadband plan currently being developed by the Federal Communications Commission in Washington.

The event was organized by Columbia University’s Fu Foundation School of Engineering and Applied Science and taped for FCC review and consideration.

The FCC’s year-long survey of the nation’s internet infrastructure was mandated by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, which included broadband initiatives intended to accelerate broadband deployment across the United States.

The stimulus package “will be the driving force in this country for many years to come” as it relates to science and technology, Edward Reinfurt, executive director of the New York State Foundation for Science, Technology and Innovation.

In New York, Gov. David Paterson has appointed the New York State Broadband Development and Deployment Council, which is holding its first meeting December 14 as his designated entity coordinating broadband stimulus activities.

The council is helping New Yorker seek federal stimulus funding. Council members and other New York officials see broadband as a means to achieve greater educational capabilities, internet access and economic development. New York’s broadband adoption rate averages around 54 percent – below the national average. An April 2009 survey by the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project said some 63 percent of adult Americans have broadband Internet connections at home,

“That’s probably where I see the synergies the most: how important broadband access and speed is to economic development in the state,” Reinfurt said.

In the portions of this story included below as Premium Content, provides further analysis of Reinfurt's remarks, reports on the comments by New York City Councilwoman Gail Brewer, plus comments from non-profit and industry officials testifying at the hearing.

[Private_Free Trial][Private_Premium Content]Not only is broadband essential to rural areas in order for those communities to participate in the global community, but super-high-speed access is also essential, officials argued. And it’s not just rural areas that are underserved on this front, they said –but cities, too.

Reinfurt pointed to the Kauffman Foundation’s 2008 State New Economy Index, which shows that New York still only ranks among the third quartile – one range below the top – when graded on indicators in categories such as knowledge jobs, globalization, economic dynamism, transformation to a digital economy, and technological innovation capacity.

It ranks ninth in the nation when taking all of these factors into account, but 38th in online population, 37th in technology in schools, 24th for online agriculture, 21st in health information technology and 22nd in high-tech jobs. It ranks seventh for broadband telecommunications.

“We’re not keeping up … this is serious and we need to understand this,” Reinfurt said, adding that New York is hoping to receive another round of stimulus funds in 2010 that can help improve its broadband speeds, in particular.

New York City Councilwoman Gale Brewer, chair of the city council’s Committee on Technology and Government, noted that a 2006 survey conducted by the city showed that while internet service is readily available in New York, lower income population adoption rates are about half that of higher income – plus there is an absence of computer literacy skills among this group.

“Still, there is a lack of understanding of the value of broadband in children’s education,” she added.

Large businesses in the city are served well with broadband, but industrial and manufacturing entities have limited service options, she said. Many older owners feel they don’t even need computers. But still, city officials want to ensure the opportunity is there. New York is also pursuing ways to install wireless internet services in more public spaces throughout the city, including parks.

“We get very excited when we have one park in Brooklyn wired – it’s pretty frustrating,” Brewer said.

Expanded broadband service can be particularly helpful in the public health sector, Brewer continued. For example, a resident signing up for Medicaid should not have to fill out forms 27 times. Brewer hopes increased broadband services will allow more of these functions to be carried out online. But that will only work if people have access.

“The city’s going in that direction with a lot of applications, but you need the speed and the affordability to be able to do it at home,” she said.

Brewer hailed President Obama and FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski for being “extremely innovative” in thinking outside the box in terms of how to wire more parts of the country.

Other state and city groups also vocalized the merits of having more broadband coverage – including everything from teaching school children and their parents all the Internet has to offer, to connecting often isolated senior citizens to their friends and family who live far away, to helping communities of color transition to a green economy, to training laid-off or unemployed workers for jobs in the new economy.

The not-for-profit Per Scholars in the South Bronx, for example, has for 15 years provided over 80,00 computers and support to low-income families and nonprofits, and trained more than 3,000 New York City and Miami residents for careers in information technology.

“Many of our families … understand the importance of the Internet. They understand the importance of broadband and technology and understand it can have a profound impact on their lives. They just don’t know how to get it,” explained organization President Plinio Ayala. “The digital divide, the broadband divide, is not just giving someone a computer – it needs to be a comprehensive solution.”

Andrea Taylor, who directs the community affairs North America program for Microsoft, noted that New York has lost nearly 250,000 jobs in the financial sector alone in the past few years, and many workers won’t return to those jobs because they either don’t exist anymore, or they require a new skill set.

To address this, a joint venture of Microsoft and the National Governors Association will soon be introduced in New York. The effort offers e-learning training for workers to prepare them for sustainable jobs. The program has already been introduced in Washington state and Illinois. At least 10 million to 20 million Americans are in need of skill upgrades, Taylor added. And high-speed, widespread broadband is critical to the program’s success, she said.

“The real hunger and demand among adults to upgrade their skills and broadband is a part of that solution because of people don’t have access they can’t do the kind of training and prep that’s needed,” Taylor said. “It’s a critical process” needed for those people “who want to get skills and get the country moving again from an economic perspective.”

Brewer’s committee will hold a hearing this Wednesday in New York’s City Hall, which will focus on how small business and technology can work together in a way that ensures startups have the same opportunities as larger businesses.[/Private_Free Trial][/Private_Premium Content]

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