Broad coalition backs universal broadband
NEW CAMPAIGN SEEKS TO SPREAD MESSAGE THAT HIGH-SPEED SERVICE
IS NECESSITY OF MODERN LIFE
By Frank Davies
June 25, 2008, mercurynews.com
WASHINGTON - A broad coalition of Internet business leaders,
online gurus, community organizers and advocates across the
political spectrum launched a campaign Tuesday with the lofty
goal of universal high-speed Internet service.
Better broadband access and quality can be a boring and
technical issue, fraught with bureaucratic complications,
admitted the organizers for InternetforEveryone.org. But they
also see it as crucial to the future of the U.S. economy,
education and even the health of democracy.
At a news conference in New York , the group warned that the
United States is falling behind European and Asian nations
with Internet access that is more limited, more expensive and
slower. U.S. users pay an average of $53 a month for high-
speed service, compared with $32 in Germany and $33 in
Britain, according to one international survey.
The campaign includes Vint Cerf, Internet "evangelist" for
Google; Stanford University Professor Lawrence Lessig; Zipcar
founder Robin Chase; venture capital leader Brad Burnham; and
Van Jones, community organizer and president of the green-
economy group Green for All, based in Oakland .
Groups backing the coalition range from the ACLU and the
Progressive States Network to techRepublican.com. David All,
a conservative online activist, said many rural voters who
lean to the GOP don't have broadband, "so it's common
sense to me why Republicans want to support the Internet."
Organizers concede that while the presidential candidates
have spoken in favor of greater high-speed access, the issue
doesn't lend itself to stump speeches. Dozens of bills in
Congress have languished that would provide subsidies and
other investments to get Internet service providers to extend
and improve coverage.
The coalition will hold forums around the country and try to
build support for plans that improve access, choice and innovation.
'Basic as hot water'
Lessig and Chase said that better service will depend on
public involvement and a recognition that high-speed Internet
is as necessary as a utility.
"Maybe it's not as basic as water, but it's as basic as hot
water," Chase said, adding that her innovative car-use
business would not exist without the Internet.
Jonathan Adelstein, a Federal Communications Commission
member, said the campaign must emphasize the benefits of
broadband, such as health care data in rural areas or
distance learning. The key, he said, is a national broadband
policy that fosters more competition.
"We're falling behind in access, speed and price," Adelstein said,
noting that large phone and cable companies dominate the
market. He sees potential in wireless networks and a need for
government subsidies for areas not served. A study by the
California State Broadband Task Force in December found that
about 1.4 million state residents, mainly in rural areas, did
not have broadband service, and only about half of
Californians have broadband at home. The group called for
state bonds and tax breaks for providers to extend service.
A "digital divide" among Internet users could also leave
lower-income and minorities behind, the coalition warned.
According to the Census Bureau, 35 percent of households with
annual incomes below $50,000 have broadband, while 76 percent
of those with higher incomes are connected.
It's 'life and death'
High-speed Internet is becoming crucial to democracy, said
Van Jones, and people are left out "when they don't have
access to the discussion in the blogosphere" or have access
to specific information in an emergency.
"In the California wildfires, those who had access to
information at the drop of a hat could figure out if they
were in danger and get out," Jones said. "It's a matter of life and death."
For more information on the broadband campaign: www.internetforeveryone.org.
Contact Frank Davies at firstname.lastname@example.org or 202-