The Federal Communications Commission is launching a $4 billion program to narrow the digital divide by making high-speed internet access and computers more affordable for more than 25 million mainly low-income Americans.
The FCC said a public-private partnership, which includes major broadband and computer companies and nonprofits, will make “the biggest effort ever” across the nation to help poorer citizens as well as rural residents, seniors, and minorities obtain broadband access.
Those who qualify would pay $9.95 a month for internet access at 1 megabit per second and $150 for a refurbished laptop running the Windows 7 operating system, along with applications that include digital literacy training.
“We’re at a time of real challenge in the economy, and broadband access is becoming increasingly vital to participating in it,” FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski said Nov. 8.
The program, to be unveiled Nov. 9, is aimed at providing qualifying residents with greater access to both professional and educational opportunities while expanding consumer demand for the online marketplace. The effort, Genachowski said, should end up stimulating the economy as well.
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“Steve Jobs was born into a lower-middle-class family, but part of his story is he had access to then cutting-edge technology because his father was a mechanic in Silicon Valley,” Genachowski said.
“If we give children better digital technology, we’re much more likely to see the next generation of innovators like Steve Jobs develop,” he said.
About one-third of Americans haven’t yet adopted broadband at home, the FCC said. That group disproportionately consists of the people who could be aided by the program.
Overall, the U.S. ranks 18th worldwide in the percentage of households with high-speed internet access, according to the World Economic Forum.
A newly formed nonprofit organization, Connect to Compete, will operate the program, which the FCC will oversee. It will launch on a small scale this spring in yet-to-be-determined areas and roll out nationwide in September.