Expanding Broadband Access in Underserved Areas
AUSTIN -- Proposals for increased access to high-speed telecommunications services, commonly referred to as broadband Internet technology, have gained significant attention nationally and locally in recent months. In a speech delivered in Albuquerque, New Mexico on March 24, 2004, President Bush outlined his vision for "universal, affordable access for broadband technology by the year 2007," arguing that such access would keep the nation on the cutting edge of technology and world trade while offering families "new ways to receive doctors' advice in their homes."
The topic also has gained the attention of elected officials in Texas. During testimony before the House Regulated Industries Committee on March 30, 2004, Texas Agriculture Commissioner Susan Combs suggested that lack of access to "affordable and competitive telecommunications services" has impeded rural economic development in the state. Noting that high-speed Internet access increasingly has become a business necessity, the commissioner touted broadband expansion as a way of promoting growth in commerce and tourism and expanding health-care options for medically underserved regions of the state.
Based on a belief that advanced telecommunications services improve quality of life and economic opportunities for citizens, broadband advocates share the goal of expanding access to those services. Some consensus exists regarding certain strategies, such as the benefits of encouraging public exposure to broadband at school and in the workplace. However, differences arise regarding options for promoting broadband availability. Some favor an active role for the state in developing a broadband policy to eliminate unequal access by managing the deployment of advanced services. Others favor a "market-based" approach incorporating tax relief for broadband companies and consumers, reducing regulatory burdens on providers, and other incentives.
Data on broadband and internet use
A number of data reports released in Texas and elsewhere show that rural residents have less access to the Internet in general and to broadband services in particular than do their urban and suburban counterparts. According to a February 2004 report titled "Rural Areas and the Internet" by the Pew Internet and American Life Project, just 52 percent of rural residents nationwide used the Internet on a regular basis in 2003, compared to 67 percent of urban residents and 66 percent of suburban residents. Further, a quarter of rural residents, compared to some 10 percent of urban and suburban residents, reported that broadband access was unavailable to them. In addition, 80 percent of rural Internet users in 2003 reported using slow dial-up Internet connections, while 63 percent of urban users and 67 percent of suburban users connected through dial-up. From 2000 to 2003, the proportion of urban Internet consumers who used broadband grew from 8 percent to 36 percent, while suburban use during this period grew from 7 percent to 32 percent. By contrast, use of broadband in rural areas grew from 3 percent in 2000 to just 19 percent in 2004. Thus, while high-speed Internet use is increasing throughout the nation, it appears to be growing at a slower rate in rural America.
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This article was taken from a recent edition of Interim News by the House Research Organization. To view the full article, please visit the House Research Organization's website at http://www.capitol.state.tx.us/hrofr/.