Will Internet access improve in 2014?
- By Kathleen Hickey
- Jan 28, 2014
President Barack Obama’s initiative to bring greater broadband access to citizens across the country got a boost last month with the Federal Communications Commission’s Connect America Fund receiving over $255 million to provide broadband access to over 400,000 homes and businesses — nearly 1 million people — in rural areas of 41 states.
“Access to modern broadband networks is essential in the information age,” said FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler. “Yet 15 million Americans live in areas where they can’t get wireline broadband no matter how much they want it. These funds will jump-start broadband access in areas that would otherwise be bypassed by the digital economy.”
The country still has a ways to go in terms of Internet connectivity and broadband speed. Last April the World Economic Forum reported the United States ranked 9th with its information and communications technologies infrastructure.
In June 2012, the Obama administration issued an executive order to bolster broadband by reducing barriers for companies to install broadband on federal properties and roads. In September 2013, it made available a set of tools to help companies choose sites to set up high-speed Internet access, particularly in underserved communities.
While President Obama’s federal initiative is moving forward slowly, state, county and city governments are also pursuing greater connectivity.
Infrastructure: Maryland completed an 800-mile addition to its high-speed statewide network, the Inter-County Broadband Network on Oct. 7, linking more than 1,000 schools, government offices and public safety operations.
Super Wi-Fi: The Gigabit Libraries Network is piloting Super Wi-Fi at public libraries in six states. Super Wi-Fi uses unlicensed, low-frequency bands in the radio-frequency spectrum — called TV white space, which offers a greater range than established Wi-Fi signals and is therefore seen as a potential solution for bringing wireless service to underserved, mostly rural areas. Last January, Wilmington and New Hanover County in North Carolina launched the municipal Super Wi-Fi, or “white spaces,” network. And West Virginia University deployed a Super Wi-Fi network on campus, providing free wireless access on its the Public Rapid Transit platforms, whose trams carry about 15,000 riders a day.
US Ignite: In August 2013, Blacksburg, Va., and Virginia Tech University became members of US Ignite, an Obama administration initiative launched in June 2012 to develop new ways to put high-speed broadband to use. In July, Kansas City, the site of Google’s first gigabit-speed fiber broadband network, announced that as part of the Mozilla Ignite Challenge, Kansas City Public Library is developing a high-speed Software Lending Library that will allow users to “check out” applications hosted by the library.
Google fiber: In December Google announced fast, free Internet for 100 Austin community organizations. And this month, the company announced that residents of Provo, Utah, who live along the former iProvo network can start signing up for Google Fiber.
Other regions that have installed or are installing broadband include Seattle, Ellensburg, Washington, Chattanooga, Tenn., Utah, Los Angeles and Louisville, Ky., among others.
But while broadband access may be slowly growing in the United States, the amount of information available on networks may be severely curtailed in the future.
On January 14 the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit knocked down key elements of the FCC’s net neutrality rules, according to a January 15 report by Bloomberg. The ruling allows broadband Internet service providers to block or discriminate against Internet content transmitted across their networks.
Charging for, and limiting data access, will negatively affect low income consumers and small businesses. Common Cause, a nonpartisan, nonprofit advocacy provides a FAQ sheet on how the ruling could affect consumers. PBS reported that the ruling could affect innovation by imposing barriers for new market entrants.
Currently Verizon and other broadband providers have said they have no intention of blocking Internet traffic, although that stance could change in the future.