FCC will allow schools to offer local community broadband access after school hours

The is a very large digital divide in America. Estimates put the number of broadband subscribers in the U.S. at about 65% of homes nationwide. The government wants to see subscriber numbers of about 90% of households nationwide in the next decade.

The reasons for not subscribing according to Americans are due to having no PC, broadband being too expensive, or having no interest in subscribing. Many Americans in rural areas simply don’t have access to broadband. The FCC is working on a national broadband plan with the goal of outlining a roadmap for moving more Americans online in the coming years.

The FCC is looking at multiple options for funding a more robust internet infrastructure around the country including reallocating the Universal Service Fund that everyone pays on their phone bill to pay for broadband initiative. The USF has about $8 billion per year in funds collected. The
Wall Street Journal reports that the FCC has unanimously voted to allocate some of the USF funds to fund broadband installations in schools. The FCC panel also voted to allow schools to offer local communities access to their internet service after school hours. 

Allowing the schools to offer access their broadband service is a change in FCC rules, which previously had prevented schools from opening broadband access. The full details of the national broadband plan are not yet available, but the final document is due next month on March 17.

FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski announced earlier this week that by 2020 the FCC wants at least 100 million households in the U.S. to have access to broadband speeds of at least 100Mbps. The broadband speeds available to most Americans today are about a tenth that fast.

"No one can argue that we are leading the world in broadband, or are even as close as we should be," Genachowski said during a recent speech. 

Internet providers have raised concerns that they will not be able to hit the 100Mbps speeds in the next decade. AT&T and Qwest Communications among others have come out and said they will not be able to meet the goal. Verizon already offers internet access at 100Mbps speeds in some markets, but availability is very limited.

Reuters reports that Genachowski also said that he wants to reduce the cost of the USF and allowing schools to offer access to their broadband connections will expand availability to Americans at no additional cost to the USF.

"Especially in these times of economic crisis, having broad community access to broadband is essential," he said. "We know that broadband availability and adoption are lagging, especially in rural, minority, low-income and tribal communities." He continued, "It is critical that our entire government work toward implementing a comprehensive National Broadband Plan to ensure U.S. competitiveness in the 21st century."

One major technology company, Cisco, has urged the FCC to adopt the new internet blueprint. Cisco's CEO John Chambers said, "A next generation Internet supported by accessible, affordable broadband can transform education, health care, energy, government as well as enable job creation and economic growth."

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