Leroy Jones, Jr. is the creator of Talking Technology with Leroy Jones, Jr.

Broadband Nation

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The National Telecommunications and Information Association (NTIA) recently released a report with great news for Americans.  After analyzing census and other data from more than 50,000 households, the NTIA concluded that almost 99 percent of the U.S. population now has access to broadband service.  The report also documented our rapid embrace of the mobile Internet, projecting double-digit annual growth rates in wireless web surfing, email and social media.

Back in 2008, President Barack Obama put forward the vision of a nation in which every American has access to the broadband Internet.  Now, for nearly the entire country, his 2008 goal is a reality.

The NTIA report's data offer several hopeful signs about Americans' broadband use, especially for demographic groups that have lagged in online adoption. Between 2011 and 2012, disparities in mobile phone adoption among whites, African-Americans and Latinos (ages 25+) largely disappeared. Usage among all three groups was between 87% and 88%.  Among seniors, home broadband use surged, increasing nearly 50% between 2007 and 2012.

More generally, evidence throughout the survey shows a remarkably consistent message: Faster broadband access is driving more usage, spurring job growth and social benefits.  NTIA cites studies showing that mobile apps sustain more than 750,000 jobs and that the typical consumer can save almost $9,000/year using smartphones in comparison to other devices.  The number of Americans who can access 6 Mbps mobile broadband - which allows for streaming HD quality video - increased from 24% in 2010 to 90% in 2012.

The benefits of modernizing our broadband networks have never been more important than they are today.  Our growing reliance on data-rich apps, particularly video, which is projected to be 84% of U.S. Internet traffic in four years, is impacting the most important aspects of our community.  The growth in home broadband among seniors, for example, has huge implications for our healthcare system. As the NTIA report notes, videoconferencing with a health care professional is well-suited for home-bound seniors and is a far less expensive option than assisted living.

Distance learning is ideally suited for broadband. California has already moved forward with an ambitious online streaming program to make college education more affordable. Georgia Tech offers an online master's program in engineering at an 80% discount to its on-campus rate.

But expanding these online opportunities requires an underlying network infrastructure that can meet users' demands.  This is the biggest Internet-related challenge we face in the coming years - the need to modernize and improve the vastly complex network systems necessary for faster, more accessible broadband.

Also important to note is that the success of President Obama's broadband policies are largely due to the bipartisan "light-touch" framework begun under President Clinton, and continued through what we have seen as the 'Internet revolution'.

It's important that we continue to implement the same policies that helped pave the way for our Internet-enabled world, and that will continue to promote innovation and infrastructure deployment.  While some have pushed for the outdated Title II approach to regulate our nation's Internet, NTIA's report clearly demonstrates the FCC should continue its successful stance of modest regulation. Only then will we be able to achieve that vision of an America in which every person has the broadband access they need to thrive in today's modern world.

LJJ (@TechnicalJones)

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