Free Press Report Highlights Need For Broadband in North Carolina

Serves as start for discussion at an town hall meeting in Durham, N.C.

No word yet from NTIA about when they will put out the guidelines on administering billions in broadband grant money from the economic stimulus package, but Free Press and wants everyone to get a sense of why getting broadband to rural America is so important.

In a just released report, "Five Days On the Digital Dirt Road," report author Megan Tady of Freee Press documents a trip through rural North Carolina to higlight the challenge of life without high-speed Internet access.

The report tells its story through a number of profiles, including a native American tribe lacking a critical link to economic opportunity, a farmer who uses dial-up to check prices while his daughter forages nightly for a broadband connection to do her homework, and a community  building a computer lab with space for local businesses but still no high-speed connections.

Jen Howard, a spokeswoman for Free Press, which oversees the Web site, said North Carolina was picked because it had been hard hit by the economy and because there was an "energetic group of citizens interested in talking about broadband," not because it was the home state of former FCC chairman Kevin Martin, who defended the FCC's record of building out broadband under frequent criticism of the pace of that rollout.

The report will serve as a jumping-off point for discussion at an town hall meeting in Durham, N.C., March 7.

The report and meeting comes as the National Telecommunications & Information Administration, the FCC and the USDA's Rural Utilities Service prepare to get together to decide who gets $7.2 billion in broadband grant money from the economic stimulus package.

The package also charges the FCC with coming up with a plan within a year for getting broadband to everybody in country.

Free Press has already outlined its blueprint for paving the digital dirt road. It includes an open road, with the FCC and NTIA guaranteeing open Internet and reasonable and nondiscriminatory interconnection, established speed benchmarks, census-based definitions of served and unserved areas and accountability for grant expenditures,