- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 9, 2011

The Federal Communications Commission on Wednesday introduced a plan to provide faster Internet service to low-income families who can’t afford it, an effort to close the “digital divide” that is holding back millions of Americans.

For less than $10 a month, families whose children qualify for free school lunches will have access to broadband Internet. They also will be able to purchase discounted computers for as little as $150.

“In this day and age, getting online is a necessity, not a convenience,” FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski said at the Langley Education Campus in the District. “We can’t afford to have a third of the country frozen out of the broadband economy.”

The “Connect 2 Compete” program, which covers as many as 25 million Americans, will start in select regions next spring, and expand nationwide in fall 2012. It provides about a 70 percent discount to these families that totals $4 billion in value.

While 68 percent of Americans have adopted broadband Internet, about one-third of the country has not.

“Broadband is now a basic requirement to participate in the 21st century economy,” Mr. Genachowski said. “Getting all Americans online is key to our nation’s economic success.”

This could be a good thing for the economy, and spur growth, according to the FCC. If the broadband adoption gap were closed, it would increase the size of America’s online market by 50 percent.

“Increasing adoption will help businesses all across the country — including small businesses — expand their markets and create jobs by extending their markets to tens of millions of Americans who are currently off-line,” Mr. Genachowski explained.

It also will help job seekers and students. In fact, more than 80 percent of Fortune 500 companies only post openings online, according to the FCC.

“Broadband can be the great equalizer,” Mr. Genachowski said. “We should close the broadband adoption gap because it’s the smart thing to do, and also because it’s the right thing to do.”

The broadband Internet offer comes from cable companies including Comcast, Time Warner Cable, Cablevision and Charter that are doing this on their own initiatives without receiving any government subsidies.

The discounted computer offer comes from Redemtech. Microsoft also will offer a computer for $250.

“In this difficult economy, everyone needs to work together and be part of the solution,” Mr. Genachowski said. “Broadband access and adoption fuels job creation, economic growth and broad opportunity. I applaud the companies and nonprofits that have stepped up to the challenge and are helping solve real problems and seize real opportunities.”

• Tim Devaney can be reached at tdevaney@washingtontimes.com.

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