Commentary

New FCC Report Boosts Case For More ISP Competition

There's no question that many Americans -- especially those in rural areas -- lack broadband because it isn't available where they live. But far more people don't have broadband because the monthly subscription rates are too high, or because they don't want it, or because they simply aren't comfortable with computers.

That's according to a new report released today by the Federal Communications Commission. The study, based on a telephone survey of around 5,000 U.S. residents, found that 35% of all Americans lack home broadband.

Twelve percent of that group -- which comes to 4% of all Americans -- say they do without broadband because high-speed Web access isn't available for any price in their neighborhoods. Indeed, one in 10 rural Americans say they can't get high-speed service. Surely many others in rural America make do with sub-par service. Consider, some California residents who get satellite broadband from HughesNet recently alleged in court papers that they paid as much as $179 a month for service that was advertised as 1.2 Mpbs minimum, but delivered less than half that.

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But the rest of the broadband-less do without for other reasons. Many -- 36% of those who lack broadband -- say it's too expensive. That group includes people who find monthly subscription fees and installation costs too high, as well as those who say a computer itself is too pricey.

Around one in five people without broadband -- 22% -- say that they're not comfortable with computers, or worry specifically that the Web isn't safe. An additional one in five people without broadband -- 19% -- say they simply see no need for high-speed service.

At the same time, the proportion of people who don't care much for the Web is bound to drop over time. Some people have always resisted new technology -- whether ATMs, microwave ovens, cell phones, DVD players or high-speed Internet access. But many hold-outs eventually come around -- especially as technological innovations become harder to avoid.

If broadband becomes necessary for activities like job searches, distance learning, telemedicine or even watching video, some people who currently eschew high-speed Web access will change their minds.

Meanwhile, advocates say the new research lends support to their calls for new policies that would result in more competition and, presumably, lower prices. Several organizations recently asked the FCC to require ISPs to share their lines with rivals. "The best cure for high prices is vigorous competition," Public Knowledge president Gigi Sohn said today in a statement. "The FCC should make certain that it includes as part of its National Broadband Plan provisions to create the competition that will bring down prices and produce better services for all Americans."

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