FCC summit pushes broadband for all, spending unused stimulus 

It's the federal government's job to get everyone online, whether they like it or not.

That was the consensus of a summit jointly held by the Federal Communications Commission and the John S. Knight Foundation. The three and a half hour “Digital Inclusion Summit,” held in Washington, D.C.’s Newseum and emceed by FCC Chair Julius Genachowski, pushed the trope that the “underserved” must receive broadband access through government assistance. Most shocking about the summit was the casual acceptance of greater government coercion to get more people online -- whether they like it or not.

In a survey taken by Pew, one in three consumers who lack Internet simply do not want it. Of current dial-up users, about 62 percent have no interest in subscribing to broadband. But you wouldn't know it from this summit.

Commissioner Mignon Clyburn (daughter of Sen. Jim Clyburn, D-S.C.) stated that the "path to adoption [of broadband] is social." Literacy alone, "is no longer sufficient. Literacy must be supplemented by digital literacy."

These digital literacy efforts, however, typically look no different from an informercial for cable companies. As Karl Bode writes:

There's some legitimate reasons to be wary of such campaigns, given that some of the programs we've seen proposed so far (like the NCTA's A+ program) seem to be little more than taxpayer-subsidized cable advertising campaigns dressed up as altruism. Some of this push to bring service to people who may not want it is about carriers wanting to use taxpayer dollars for a broadband equivalent of the "Got Milk?" ad campaign.

Clyburn nevertheless went on to suggest that government efforts to ensure greater willingness to embrace the Internet should mirror the efforts of Americorps, who went from door to door helping install converter boxes in advance of the digital TV transition. “We need to invest in libraries and community organizations” to get people comfortable with the Internet.

“Non-adopters may be uncomfortable operating a computer, or being exposed online to the dangers, but helping those people become comfortable with it may be just enough to get them online,” she said.

The term “non-adopters” is one of several euphemisms for the various classes of 93 million people who, according to the FCC, are “kept” from going online, whether because of cost, lack of digital skills, or a lack of concern. But hardly anyone addressed why these users, who have thus far felt little need to get online, would benefit from more costly broadband access rather than dial-up, which may suit their needs just as well.

The Competitive Enterprise Institute's Wayne Crews and Ryan Radea have remarked that "[i]n areas where very fast broadband is available and priced competitively, relatively few consumers subscribe to the fastest tier available to them. This indicates that most consumers presently place relatively little value on extremely high speeds." 

Yet Rep. Xavier Becerra, D-Calif., ignored the difference, instead emphasizing that “there is no family that wants to be removed from what happens with the rest of society.” He added that although the stimulus was passed to create jobs now, “it was also serve to provide children with jobs in the future.”

One speaker said that Becerra’s speech “brought tears to [her] eyes."

About The Author

J.P. Freire

J.P. Freire is the associate editor of commentary. Previously he was the managing editor of the American Spectator. Freire was named journalist of the year for 2009 by the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC). You can follow him on Twitter here. Besides the Spectator, Freire's work has appeared in... more
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