Broadband access is critical to the future of America’s low-income families, and achieving that connectivity must be a priority issue for policymakers, FCC member Mignon Clyburn told the National Association of Telecommunications Officers and Advisors.
Speaking at the group’s annual conference in San Francisco this week, the Federal Communications Commission member said it was in our national interest that every American household, rich or poor, have high-speed Internet access.
“No matter how critical things may be for us economically, we must address the connectivity needs of low-income families,” Clyburn said.
She noted that recent reports show 26 million Americans still don’t have access to broadband service and that a growing numbers of those citizens are living below the poverty line, particularly in minority communities.
She went on to share statistics that paint a grim picture for low-income families with regard to broadband technology. Adoption of broadband Internet access among low-income households lags significantly — only 40 percent of families with an annual income of $20,000 or less, compared to greater than 90 percent among families with annual income above $75,000.
“For these families, they are at significant disadvantage,” Clyburn said. “Their children cannot use the Internet after hours to complete their homework. And as more schools are moving to online communications, the parents are also impacted by the disconnection. It’s harder to keep up with the latest information about their children’s education.”
“We must do our part to educate vulnerable communities for this digital age,” she said. “If we don’t, they may be left even further behind. Every child needs an education, and now this includes a digital education…. It is not sufficient to build broadband networks and assume everyone will come. It is a must that we promote digital literacy, broadband use and affordability.”
As the FCC continues to look for ways it can modify policies to “further assist the private sector to begin offering significant broadband equipment and services to these families, along with training,” Comcast launched its Internet Essentials this week.
The Comcast program offers discounted broadband service for low-income households with school-age children. The Comcast initiative sprung from last year’s approval by the FCC of the NBC Universal joint venture.
“While much has been done, there is still much more to do,” Clyburn said.
“I believe that the members of NATOA are in a unique position to play an even more critical role in strengthening the communications networks by raising the focus on and further promoting the digital literacy and broadband adoption efforts that are currently under way in our communities,” the FCC commissioner said. “And where those needs persist, you are among the best in helping to inform those organizations where the greatest needs are, including those broadband providers you know really want, or really should, help make a difference in bridging the digital divide.”
NATOA — the National Association of Telecommunications Officers and Advisors — is a professional organization that supports members on the many local, state, and federal communications laws, administrative rulings, judicial decisions and technology issues affecting the interests of local governments. Its areas of focus include broadband access as and digital literacy.