Genachowski: Broadband Expands Learning, Business Opportunities

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Federal Communications Commission Chairman Julius Genachowski, hoping to narrow the nation's digital divide, said the regulatory panel plans to redirect resources to help expand mobile broadband infrastructure, particularly in rural areas.

To help expand high-speed Internet access, regulators are seeking to retool the $8 billion telephone subsidy program for landline service, the Universal Service Fund.

Speaking to attendees at the 2011 Wireless EdTech Conference last week, Genachowski said access to broadband service is no longer the luxury it was just a few years ago.

Today, technology has made way for interactive learning devices and distance learning, connecting students wherever they are, he said.

The charge for regulators, educators and the nation is:"How can we harness this technology to benefit our country and the world?"Genachowski said, noting the "enormous economic potential" for expansive mobile broadband connectivity.

"There is no question that today being digitally literate is essential to participate in our economy, and there is no question that these technologies provide the opportunities to equalize opportunity," he said. "The costs of digital exclusion are growing larger."

Although the United States has mobile innovation that's"the envy of the world," the nation has significant gaps and challenges, the chairman conceded.

In particular, there is a broadband deployment gap in areas of rural America, with about 20 million people living in areas without broadband service.

"We have to fix that," Genachowski said, adding that there are over 100 million Americans who could have broadband but don't.

"We have to tackle that," he said, "and we have other infrastructure issues we have to address," including spectrum gap.

He added, "We're on a very good path, as long as we take care of our mobile infrastructure - spectrum -- to make sure that the very exciting demand we're seeing for broadband does not outstrip supply."

As for "modernizing" the Universal Service Fund program, Genachowski said the move would not only help expand broadband access but doing so would also likely be a boon for the U.S. economy and job creation.

To get there, the FCC has reached out to the private sector "to take significant steps" to address the broadband adoption gap.

"If we can get 100 million more Americans online that doubles our online market for businesses," Genachowski said. "This is a win-win."

Created by the FCC in 1997, the Universal Service Fund supports phone service to schools, libraries, the poor and high-cost areas of the country, as mandated by the Telecommunications Act of 1996.

The USF fee assessed to telecom companies changes quarterly. For the first quarter of 2011, the USF fee was 15.5 percent of a carrier's interstate and end-user revenues. Last year, the program paid $4.3 billion to carriers doing business in designated areas, officials reported.

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