FCC chair discusses plans to widen broadband access

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WAYNE ALLEN


PDT Staff Writer


Federal Communications Commission (FCC) chairman Julius Genachowski said during an interview Friday that the FCC has a plan that will allow everyone access to broadband Internet by 2020.


It is estimated by the FCC that over 14 percent of Ohio’s rural population lacks access to high-speed Internet that meets the FCC’s threshold for adequate service — including 11 percent of Scioto County, 39 percent of Adams, 30 percent of Jackson, 13 percent of Pike and 22 percent of Lawrence. To help address this problem the FCC has re-purposed its Universal Service Fund.


The fund had been used to help connect Americans to phone service. The FCC has changed the name of the fund to the Connect America Fund to connect rural America to broadband.


“The Connect America Fund is the most significant program we’ve had to connect rural America to high speed Internet,” Genachowski said. “It had been widely recognized for sometime the Universal Service Fund needed to be modernized. It needed to focus on broadband and not telephone. It had gotten wasteful and inefficient over the years and the money was not being properly spent.”


He said last October the FCC approved a once-in-a-generation overhaul of the program, to create the Connect America Fund.


“The program is designed to get to 100 percent broadband coverage in the United States by 2020. It is also designed to reduce the broadband deployment gap by 50 percent over the next five years,” Genachowski said. “We’ve also adopted a mobility fund. This is the first time that we’ve identified mobility as a universal service goal. We now define universal service as not only as connectivity in the home, a traditional definition. But, we also define as a universal service goal, ubiquitous mobile coverage.”


He said the mobility fund is expected to provide mobile coverage to tens-of-thousands of road miles, and millions of Americans.


“Ohio is going to be an important beneficiary of this program. There are over 350,000 people in Ohio that don’t have broadband infrastructure where they live. We expect this program over the next five years to cut that number in half and by 2020 connect everyone,” Genachowski said. “In Ohio there are about 7,000 miles of roads that lack access to mobile coverage. We expect that our mobility fund will make a big dent in that.”


He said the FCC spends about $4.5 billion a year on universal service.


“Until these reforms last year, I believe we were spending them unwisely. We’ve reformed these programs so that over the next 10 years we are going to spend $45 billion dollars investing in modern communications infrastructure in rural America,” Genachowski said, “We know this can work because historically we done a good job rolling out telephone service to rural America.”


Genachowski said in his role as chairman he has traveled around rural America a lot.


“It seems very clear that in today’s economy, if you are a small town in rural America and you don’t have broadband, economic development is close to a pipe dream,” Genachowski said. “The opposite is also true if you do have broadband, small business have the chance to sell their goods to the town next door, to the state next door even overseas.”


Genachowski said he expects the program to have a positive impact on economic development in Ohio.


“We are moving forward and that’s the good news. We have started the transition to the Connect America Fund. The first tranche of funding from the fund will be coming out later this month. The first tranche of funding under the mobility fund is expected in the fall. There are a number of eligible companies in Ohio that have expressed an interest in participating,” Genachowski said.


Connect Ohio is an organization working to blanket Ohio with broadband Internet access and dramatically improve the use of related technology, working across all sectors of the state economy to accelerate the availability and use of broadband. Connect Ohio recently unveiled numbers that shows an improvement in broadband availability in Appalachia Ohio.


Connect Ohio’s research shows that 97.57 percent of Ohio residents now have access to fixed broadband of three megabits per second download or higher. When compared to 2011 percentages 97.06 percent of Ohio residents now have access to fixed broadband of 3 megabits per second download or higher. That’s an increase of 23,300 homes.


Earlier this year Connect Ohio released a technology assessment for Scioto County that shows improvement in computer ownership and access to broadband in the last two years. Connect Ohio released a similar technology assessment for every county in the state, based on a 2011 survey of 1,000 residents. The assessment is based on the responses.


The state of Ohio Broadband adoption averages about 66 percent, in Scioto County broadband adoption is at 54 percent. In 2008 Scioto County’s broadband adoption rate was 39 percent. At the time, Scioto County has 93 percent coverage of broadband, Adams is at 62 percent, Pike is at 92 percent, Jackson is at 80 percent, and Gallia is at 62 percent.


In May, Gov. John Kasich announced that Shawnee State University will be included in Phase Two of the Ohio Academic Resources Network (OARnet) expansion. According to officials this inclusion means an increase in Shawnee State’s bandwidth capacity from its current one gigabyte to an eventual 100 gigabytes, aiding in increased research capabilities, advancements with high-tech areas such as gaming simulation, and economic development.


The expected OARnet expansion will take place in late 2012 and will be available in 2013.


Wayne Allen may be reached at 740-353-3101, ext. 208, or wallen@heartlandpublications.com.

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