I can see why even those of us who deliver broadband may at times wonder how important broadband actually is for productivity and other impacts to society over standard dialup Internet service. Here are some of my thoughts about it.

Maybe if we can create virtual home offices over broadband then folks can work from home in some cases. I can see moms or dads who want to stay home but also need a job. They could do this, earn extra money and compete better against some of those over-seas jobs where work is outsourced. I believe I read something about Jetblue doing this with call center functions hiring morman moms in Utah to act as their virtual call center for all order processing, customer service, etc..

Building virtual call centers is a new industry opportunity in itself if broadband can be utilized and heavily available. I am sure many of you are saying that broadband is not a requirement to do this but certainly the PBX capability of VOIP requires broadband. Virtual office environments could help us save money by eliminating or reducing fuel costs. Virtual meetings require only some type of shared computer whiteboard space and audio / video conferencing to allow for complete virtualized meeting capability. I could have used a virtual office environment today which would have saved me 4 hours of drive to to St. Louis and back again. Not to mention the fuel and vehicle maintenance cost related to a 4 hour drive. Maybe companies would be able to expand more readily if they had less transportation costs by utilizing broadband. I am not saying you guys should all buy into this concept or that I am even sure what the actual target job count increases could be but I am willing to bet that some economic and even job count advantages would be gained by more access to broadband.

I believe that access to Broadband can, and usually does, produce a good net result for our society. Here is an example. In Bluford, Illinois Mt. Vernon. Net, Inc. received a grant to build 900 MHz broadband wireless Internet access through the USDA. We built a highly available broadband network in this small community of about 750 people. One day the grade school called me with a problem. They had a 7 year old student who had become stricken with leukemia. As a result the child had to have a bone marrow transplant. This required him to be 100% isolated in his home from any human contact. One of the things he was most worried about, even though he was facing possibly death from the disease, was that he did not want to be held back a year in school. He wanted to stay with his class. The school asked us if we could help. We used grant funds to purchase an IP camera with pan, tilt, zoom capability. We installed wireless into the kids home. We setup the camera in his classroom. He finished the year over his broadband connection by virtually attending class every day. This boy finished with his class. He is now well and back to school. He was not held back a year. How important was broadband to this rural child? How many other unforeseen advantages will we see when more access to broadband becomes part of our society?

Travis Johnson wrote:


Can someone explain to me how having broadband (instead of dial-up internet that EVERYONE can get) is going to create 61,000 jobs per year for the next 20 years? If it will create jobs from people doing more online, then it will decrease jobs from the brick and mortar businesses going out of business. Am I missing something?


John Scrivner wrote:

This is the US Senator in my district in Illinois. It looks like he has been reading my emails maybe. :-) At least he is getting parts of what I have been saying.


Friday, August 4, 2006

[WASHINGTON, DC] – U.S Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) says a national policy is needed to accelerate the deployment of broadband internet service to rural areas so that every American can have high-speed internet access no matter where they live. Today, Durbin introduced legislation, the Broadband for Rural America Act of 2006, to encourage the rapid deployment of high-quality, affordable broadband internet service, especially in rural areas.

“Broadband is an essential component of our lives, at work and at home. It has become an essential service like water, gas and electricity. Our homes and businesses need affordable access to high speed internet connections, in the same way our homes and businesses need traditional utility services,” said Durbin. “Yet, for too many people living in small communities today, broadband access is still not a reality. When I travel in downstate Illinois, people tell me that they cannot wait to have broadband service, but that there is no service available to them right now. My bill will change that.”

Two recent reports -- one issued by the U.S. Department of Commerce and the other by the U.S. Department of Agriculture – found that rural and farm households have access to broadband internet at approximately half the level of all U.S. households nationwide. Another respected research organization, the Pew Internet and American Life Project, found similar results. In its 2006 report, Pew found that only 18% of rural adults reported a home broadband connection, compared to 31% of urban adults. All of these studies point to a consistent conclusion: Americans living in urban areas are almost twice as likely to have home broadband access as do their rural counterparts.

Durbin said broadband is critical to community and economic development, as it encourages investment, creates jobs, improves productivity, fosters innovation, and increases consumer benefits in every corner of our nation. A recent study found that adoption of current generation broadband would increase the gross domestic product by $179.7 billion, while adding approximately 61,000 jobs per year over the two decades. The study also projected 1.2 million jobs could be created if next generation broadband technology were rapidly deployed.

“We need to close the digital divide, ensuring that rural Americans are not left behind in the 21st Century’s digital economy,” Durbin noted. “Whether it is through telephone wire, cable, fiber, satellite, wireless or any other medium, we need every existing and future broadband service provider to step up to the national challenge.”

Durbin said his bill includes four major provisions. Each is designed to focus on identifying obstacles that hinder broadband deployment in rural America today, and to find innovative solutions to address those concerns.

Creates Broadband Trust Fund: creates a new federal program specifically targeted at assisting individuals, businesses and co-ops working at the earliest stages to bring broadband to their communities. Eligible entities include nonprofits, academic institutions, local governments and commercial companies that work to identify broadband access needs in unserved areas of the country. Projects to be funded through this new program will include feasibility studies, mapping, economic analysis, and other activities done to determine the reasons for the current lack of service, and the scale, scope, and type of broadband services most suitable for the particular unserved area.

Reforms USDA Rural Broadband Program: the current USDA broadband loan program provides below-market rate loans and loan guarantees for the construction and improvement of broadband facilities and equipment in rural areas. This program expires in 2007. Durbin’s bill does three things with regard to the broadband loan program -- extends the life of the program for another five years until 2012; refocuses the program solely on rural areas where it is most needed; and establishes a grant program to be administered by the same USDA office that currently runs the rural broadband loan program.

Wireless Broadband Spectrum: requires the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to make new spectrum available for wireless broadband services in rural areas as soon as practicable. The bill also requires the FCC to evaluate its spectrum auction plans and to divide some of the frequency allocations into smaller area licenses so that regional and rural wireless companies can compete in the bidding process. Making additional spectrum available holds tremendous potential for wireless broadband to be deployed in rural areas, especially in large geographic regions where it would be cost prohibitive to build out wires and cable.

Creates Broadband Task Force: establishes a task force consisting of experts in federal, state, and local governments, trade associations, public interest organizations, academic institutions, and other areas to study best practices for rapid deployment of broadband services in states, particularly those with large unserved rural areas. The bill requires the task force, within 6 months, to provide to Congress and to each governor a report detailing a comprehensive list of specific measures adopted by state or local governments that helped deploy broadband services in areas that lacked such services.

The legislation has been referred to the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee.

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