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FCC Report: Broadband Economy Needs Bigger Boost in Rural Communities

June 17, 2011

FRANKFORT, Ky. – Job opportunities will elude millions of mostly rural Americans because they lack access to high-speed Internet, according to a new report by the Federal Communications Commission.

Sharon Gillett, chief of the FCC's Wireline Competition Bureau, says progress in broadband deployment has been made across the nation, but a hefty workload remains - particularly in rural areas.

"We need to continue with our reforms in order to ensure that everybody gets broadband. We still have 26 million people without the standard level of broadband service in the country, and that's too many. We need to close that gap."

She says the report, which is the FCC's yearly national check of broadband deployment, ranks Kentucky as having the fifth-lowest rate of broadband availability in the nation.

"We found that there's 1.2 million people, which is nearly 28 percent of Kentucky residents, who are lacking access to wireline broadband at the speeds that most Americans enjoy. That's compared to a national average of 8.4 percent of Americans who are lacking wireline broadband at those speeds."

She notes that some of Kentucky's municipal utilities have been active in deploying broadband, but adds that the state's low ranking is due in part to the steep amounts of capital needed to bring broadband infrastructure to rural communities – which can be a risky proposition for providers.

"Areas can be costly to serve but, if they're filled with affluent people, then maybe the numbers might add up for the carrier. If they're both costly to serve and the populations are generally on the lower end of the income scale, that's going to make it really challenging."

Where broadband is available, the FCC found that more that 100 million Americans still don't subscribe to it. So, Gillett says digital literacy projects are important.

"Often it's cost, but not always. Sometimes it's just they don't believe it's relevant in their lives. But, there are many who aren't subscribing that we also view broadband adoption as an issue that we definitely need to be working on."

The FCC is looking to more public-private partnerships to ramp up access, similar to the way telephone service was expanded. The agency believes reforming the Universal Service Fund will also help to extend high-speed Internet to under-served areas.

The FCC Broadband Progress Report can be found at www.fcc.gov.

Renee Shaw, Public News Service - KY