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Connected Nation Testifies on Capitol Hill; Addresses Nation’s Broadband Demand Gap

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Connected Nation’s Laura Taylor Provides Testimony to U.S. House Committee on Energy and Commerce’s Subcommittee on Communications, Technology, and the Internet on the National Broadband Plan.

Washington, D.C. –Today, Connected Nation’s Chief Policy Officer Laura Taylor addressed the U.S. House Committee on Energy and Commerce’s Subcommittee on Communications, Technology, and the Internet about the importance of increasing broadband adoption to spur broadband expansion.

“Our experience, and the data that go along with it, show that the nation’s ‘demand gap’ is significantly larger than the ‘supply gap’ – with supply outstripping demand by between 30 and 35 percentage points. Broadband adoption stimulation is the key to the ultimate success of any effort to fully address the broadband challenge,” Taylor said.

Her testimony was part of a series of hearings held by the subcommittee examining recommendations in the recently released National Broadband Plan for increasing broadband adoption, including ways to ensure that all Americans are able to subscribe to broadband and educating consumers about broadband’s benefits.

During today’s hearing, several subcommittee members praised the work of Connected Nation and its state-based initiatives.

U.S. Rep. Bob Latta (R, OH-5), lauded the work of Connected Nation and its
Connect Ohio initiative, specifically the research on broadband adoption in the state and commitment to public-private partnerships. “Connected Nation has been a key component at raising awareness (in the state),” Latta said in his opening remarks.

U.S. Rep. Zack Space (D, OH-18) also applauded Connected Nation’s “great work” done in overcoming the first hurdle to broadband expansion – mapping, calling Connected Nation “one of the nation’s leaders” in broadband mapping.

Following the opening statements, Taylor provided insights into Connected Nation’s extensive data on broadband adoption through statewide initiatives, real-world examples of how its work with grassroots community programs drive broadband adoption, how public-private partnerships are essential in driving sustainable broadband adoption, and how the National Broadband Plan makes several good recommendations to accomplish these goals.

Connected Nation is currently creating data and broadband inventory maps
for 13 states or territories (Alaska, Florida, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, Ohio, Puerto Rico, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Texas).

This experience and subsequent research has shown alarming broadband adoption gaps among at-risk populations, which is consistent with National Broadband Plan findings, Taylor said. These gaps are especially wide with rural Americans, minorities, people with disabilities, and low-income Americans.

These gaps demonstrate the need for federal support for public-private partnership driven efforts to increase broadband adoption. Taylor followed with examples of Connected Nation’s success in the public-private partnership model including in Tennessee, where recent county-level research shows that these public-private efforts of the statewide
Connected Tennessee program, a Connected Nation state initiative, are effectively closing the digital divide.

From 2007 to 2010, the 35% growth of home broadband adoption in Tennessee outpaced national growth of 28%. Minorities in Tennessee – who have historically lagged Caucasians in Internet use – have now surpassed Caucasians, with 84% of minority adults in Tennessee reporting that they use the Internet , she said. This well exceeds the FCC reported national average of 78%. The rural-urban gap was also narrowed significantly in Tennessee.

“One of the most powerful county-level case studies comes from Perry County, Tennessee,” Taylor said. Through the Connected Tennessee Computers 4 Kids program and a donation from the AT&T Foundation, 20 new computers and six printers were placed in a summer youth program to create jobs for high school students who worked to improve web-based tourism and economic development for the city of Linden. After this summer program ended, the computers were transformed into a digital factory, creating permanent technology jobs in Perry County. Broadband adoption in Perry County has grown by 175% since 2007.

Following her testimony, Taylor addressed several questions offered from the subcommittee chairman, U.S. Rep. Rick Boucher (D, VA-9) and ranking member U.S. Rep. Cliff Stearns (R, FL-6).

Boucher asked Taylor about Connected Nation’s experience in ensuring the accurate representation of coverage in the broadband mapping process, especially when providers are the ones giving the data. Taylor emphasized the importance of on-the-ground verification, which ensures real-world examples of the providers’ data. Also, she stressed the necessity of public input in the mapping process. Specifically, she mentioned the use of web-based maps, which allows for easy comment by the public.

Stearns began his questioning by praising the commitment of Connected Nation and Connected Tennessee to help connect minority communities. Connecting these communities is a vital part of broadband adoption in the United States, he said.

“That (Connected Tennessee’s minority broadband adoption data) says it all - that your nonprofit organization is doing that,” he said.

In written remarks submitted as part of the hearing, Taylor concluded with how the lessons learned by Connected Nation can and do relate to the tasks proposed in the National Broadband Plan.

The FCC sets forth several principles and recommendations that Connected Nation believes should be supported by both the Legislative and Executive Branches, according to Taylor. These include:
  1. Focusing on the barriers to adoption. Connected Nation has found that these barriers are different from place to place, therefore local research is key to this effort;
  2. Focusing on broadband in the home. Connected Nation agrees that libraries and other public places are critical points of access; however, there is no substitution for a computer in the home – especially for rural America where access to community anchor institutions is limited, she said;
  3. Measurement and evaluation are critical to success because they allow programs to make adjustments on an ongoing basis. Connected Nation already does this through regular and recurring research and the local level and regularly updated broadband maps.

“Filling in the broadband gaps is essential to ensure that all Americans can participate in the twenty-first century economy – this step is especially critical for rural Americans,” Taylor wrote in the submitted remarks. “The job, however, is not complete unless we ensure that all Americans who have access to this technology are in fact using it in ever more productive ways. We look forward to continue working with Congress, the Federal government, states, and thousands of local champions who understand and share our mission for universal digital inclusion across America.”

Related Links:
CN Blog: Connected Nation Touted, Testifies on Capitol Hill