Friday, June 27, 2008

Broad coalition backs universal broadband

Broad coalition backs universal broadband



By Frank Davies

June 25, 2008,

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 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 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:

Contact Frank Davies at or 202-

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