Ask this question to 100 Americans: What would it be like to not have home Internet access? Roughly 69 of them would say that’d be a major disadvantage to finding a job, getting health information or accessing other key information. That’s according to a Pew Research Center report released late in 2015.
So, most people believe that not having easy access to the Internet is incredibly difficult, but agreeing what to do about the so-called Digital Divide brings up a slew of reservations. Who pays for it? If it’s a government program, what about the potential for waste and fraud that has occurred with similar approaches? And, isn’t the cost just the beginning? What about digital literacy problems?
Yesterday, President Obama waded into the fray unveiling the ConnectALL initiative and backing the proposal circulated by the FCC this week to extend the Lifeline program, which would offer low-income consumers a $9.25 per month subsidy for Internet service.
Perhaps with past Republican criticism fresh in mind that it leaned too hard on the FCC over net neutrality, the Administration is releasing these recommendations after the FCC circulated its potential plans.
Expanding the FCC’s Lifeline program is not without its vocal critics, including FCC Commissioner Michael O’Rielly. He blogged his distress on March 3, just prior to the Commission’s official circulation of the Lifeline extension proposal. Calling for a “hard budget,” he kicked off the post bluntly with the question: “Why is it so easy for some people in Washington, D.C., to spend other people’s money?”
Beyond getting behind the subsidy, the Obama Administration also released a new study calling for “nonprofits, businesses, technology experts, and government to join a national effort to reach the ConnectALL goal of connecting 20 million more Americans to broadband by 2020.”
To bridge the Digital Divide, experts have noted that just addressing the cost won’t solve the problem. Comcast’s David L. Cohen, senior executive vice president and chief diversity officer in public policy, noted in a recent blog that the primary barrier to adoption is not the cost of the service, but rather “a bucket of digital literacy issues.”
The Administration plans to take on these issues by initiating a national service effort to deliver digital skills. Tasked with increasing access to digital literacy training will be the Corporation for National and Community Service and the Institute of Museum and Library Services to collaborate on a Digital Literacy Pilot Project. Further, AmeriCorps VISTA members will support libraries, museums and associated community organizations located in tribal and rural communities. “The goal is to build capacity and increase digital literacy efforts, complementing the Administration’s work to increase broadband adoption among low-income households,” the ConnectALL fact sheet states.
Additionally, the White House also says it’ll rely on private sector companies helping to deliver affordable connectivity. In particular, Cox Communications got a shout-out from the Administration when it noted the operator’s new efforts. “Today, Cox Communications is announcing it will host more than 200 events across the nation for low-income K-12 families, automatically qualifying attendees for their low-cost broadband option,” the fact sheet notes. “Later this year, the company will partner with Univision to promote Internet adoption through live programming, public service announcements and community events in such markets as Phoenix, Las Vegas and San Diego.”
Filed Under: Industry regulations