Activists Attack Rosy Broadband Report


Free Press and Consumers Union say FCC Chairman Kevin Martin was wearing rose-colored glasses when he touted a July report on the progress of the country's rollout of broadband service.

The two released a report of their own Wednesday, a "broadband reality check" the groups said shows the FCC is "failing to confront the digital divide."

In an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal July 7, Martin pointed to the report's findings, saying: "The dramatic growth in broadband services depicted in this report proves that we are well on our way to accomplishing the President’s goal of universal, affordable access to broadband by 2007.

"The report contains two key findings," he wrote. "First, the U.S. leads the world in the total number of broadband connections with 38 million subscribers. And we are signing up new subscribers at an incredible rate."

The groups argue that the FCC's definition of 200 kilobits per second as high-speed Internet access is barely fast enough for streaming video and "far below" the high-speed threshold for other countries. It also argues that the FCC is overstating the penetration rate by using a ZIP code reached as the measurement, even if only one person in the ZIP code subscribes--irrespective of price, speed, or general availability.

"Despite FCC claims, the digital divide persists and is growing wider," they say. "Broadband adoption is largely dependent on socio-economic status. In addition, broadband penetration in urban and suburban in areas is double that of rural areas."

The report was a response not only to the FCC's braodband status report but to the commission's removal--with the help of the Supreme Court in the Brand X decision--of open access requirements on cable braodband service and, as of last Friday, on telco broadband service as well.

"If the FCC is content to let cable and phone companies control the broadband market," said Consumers Union senior policy analyst Jeannine Kenney, then consumers need a third option -- wireless broadband that is less expensive and which doesn't depend on DSL or cable modems. It offers the best and perhaps now the only way to close the digital divide."