FCC and Connect to Compete provide solutions for Cost of Broadband Adoption

Broadband's Impact, Education, FCC, National Broadband Plan November 10th, 2011

, Deputy Editor, BroadbandBreakfast.com

WASHINGTON, Thursday November 10th 2011,  The Federal Communications Commission’s Chairman Julius Genachowski announced what the Commission is touting as the “Biggest effort ever to help close the Digital Divide.”  Following up on the launch of the Connect to Compete  private and non profit sector partnership a couple of weeks ago, yesterday’s announcement at Langley Education Campus in Northeast Washington DC laid out specific initiatives to drive broadband adoption for students and low income communities.

The Chairman’s began by addressing the huge issue that is our digital divide.  68% of American households are not connected to broadband in their home.  If the broadband adoption gap were fully closed, the size of America’s online market would increase by 50%.  Mr. Genachowski stressed that landing many jobs today require digital skills and students with computers in the home are better situated to compete in school and in the eventual workplace.

Genachowski reiterated some of the findings from a Pew Study on adoption and mentioned that the three reasons given for non adoption were lack of understanding and relevance, lack of digital literacy, and cost.

“Four weeks ago, along with leaders of businesses and non-profits, we announced the creation of ‘Connect to Compete,’ a first-of-its-kind national effort to address the barriers to broadband adoption. The focus in that announcement was on improving digital literacy and closing the skills gap. As part of that effort, many major companies made significant commitments to tackle digital literacy and promote adoption. For example, Best Buy announced it will put its 20,000 Geek Squad Agents to work beginning in 20 cities to train Americans in basic digital literacy.” Said Genachowski.

“Today, we are taking on the difficult challenge of cost – the primary obstacle to adoption for tens of millions of Americans, especially minorities and those hardest pressed in these challenging economic times.”

National Cable & Telecommunications Association and a coalition of cable providers are addressing the cost of adoption issue by offering a low cost internet service option for families with children eligible for the National School Lunch Program.  This low cost broadband for low income families will be available for $9.95 a month, which is approximately a 70% discount.

Michael Powell, President and CEO of NCTA released a statement later in the day saying, “Cable broadband providers reaching 86 percent ofU.S.households with broadband service have committed to participate in C2C or some other complementary program. They’ll offer a discounted promotional rate of no more than $9.95 a month (plus tax) for high-speed Internet access to qualifying families with kids in grades Kindergarten through 12 who receive free lunch under the National School Lunch Program.  Participating companies will waive installation fees in the case of standard or self-installation.  They’ll throw in a cable modem free of charge during the length of the program, or offer to sell one for a deeply discounted fee.  And those who sign up for the program will enjoy, at a minimum, download speeds of up to 1 Mbps, while some may receive faster speeds.”

Powell added, “The program will launch in 2012, in the back-to-school period for the 2012-13 school year.  There will be a sign-up window of three years.  And any family that qualifies and signs up can stay in the program for up to two years.”

Genachowski continued “Ten bucks a month for broadband. That’s great, but most of the families who don’t have broadband at home don’t have a computer either, and it doesn’t help if you have broadband but don’t have a device to get online.”

The second major announcement was that Redemtech, a technology refurbishment company has committed to offering refurbished laptops or desktops for $150.  Microsoft has also committed to offering a new set of laptops and desktops designed for students that start at $250.  Additionally Morgan Stanley has committed to developing micro financing plans to help low income families take advantage of these low cost offers.

Genachowski announced the further partnerships of a number of non profit, private sector and government actors who are committed to building the skills necessary to operate in a digital world.  Some of these partners include, United Way World Wide, Common Sense Media, Opportunity Nation, iKeepSafe, America’s Promise, oDesk, Appalachian Regional Council, Delta Regional Authority, Glassdoor.com, Indeed.com and the Learning Express.

TheJointCenterfor Political and Economic Studies will be tracking the effectiveness and promoting accountability along the way.

Pat Esser President of Cox Communications pledged his full support to the Connectr to Compete program and said, “Cox has launched its own community-based broadband adoption initiatives in California, Virginia and other markets so we have seen first-hand how the comprehensive approach of attacking the entire broadband adoption challenge – from digital literacy to affordability to relevance – is vitally important to making the connection a success.

Sig Behrens, Mircosoft’s General Manager of U.S. Education noted in his released remarks that, “Access to world class learning through the power of technology can help kids stay in school, graduate, get better jobs and contribute to economic growth. As part of the FCC’s ‘Connect to Compete’ initiative to accelerate opportunities for low income students and their families, starting early next year, Microsoft with its hardware partners will offer a series of affordable, high-quality education computers starting at $250 that include Windows and Office.”

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