Posted by Paula Boyd 
Regulatory Counsel

Martin Luther King, Jr. dedicated his life to the ideal of an all-inclusive nation that remedied not only racial inequality, but also economic inequality. In today’s tech-centric society, ensuring widespread access to high capacity broadband has become a prerequisite to expand economic opportunities throughout America. 

So it was fitting that today, at the Martin Luther King Jr,. Memorial Library in Washington, D.C., a broad-based new group took an important step toward making affordable broadband ubiquitous with the announcement of the “Schools, Health and Libraries Broadband Coalition.” The Coalition includes NGOs that represent educational and medical facilities, a range of public interest groups and private sector firms such as Microsoft. 

The Coalition’s mission is simple: Improve the availability of high-capacity broadband at every K-12 school, college, university, library, hospital and clinic across the nation. Achieving this goal will put America in a strong position to grow our economy long-term, and will enable all communities to benefit from expanded access to better education, jobs training, skills development and health care.

Connecting more of our vital public institutions to high capacity broadband will produce many immediate benefits. Connected students and teachers will be able to access online courses and materials; schools and libraries will become hubs where workers can enhance their skills and find new jobs over the Internet; telemedicine and long-distance consults will help doctors deliver better medical care more cost-effectively.

There are significant indirect benefits of The Coalition’s mandate as well.  The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has acknowledged that while the $7 billion in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) for expanding broadband access is very significant, it’s not enough to wire every home in the nation.  So the Coalition urges that schools, libraries and healthcare entities be given top priority for the funds.  The Coalition also believes network operators should be allowed to interconnect with these government-subsidized high-capacity broadband lines so the country can also  extend affordable broadband deeper into communities, including to households and businesses.

Under the ARRA, the FCC has to send Congress a National Broadband Plan by February 2010 that tackles issues beyond the Recovery Act.  On March 25, Microsoft first urged the FCC to adopt a national broadband strategy that prioritizes schools, libraries and hospitals. Earlier this week, on June 8, Microsoft recommended that the FCC take a few additional steps for the long-term: define a minimum baseline broadband service rate of 100 Mbps, upload and download, for anchor public institutions ; define a minimum baseline broadband service rate of 4 Mbps, download, for a consumer-focused broadband subsidy program; assure that these baseline definitions be updated periodically to stay current with technology and demand; and adopt rules encouraging network providers to use these anchor institutions as jumping off points to deliver last-mile, high-capacity broadband service to consumers.  We urged ongoing spectrum reform to create room for new wireless broadband technology, and we advised that, holistically, the FCC’s regulatory framework has to be modernized to better suit the dynamism of the Internet economy.

As the FCC and the Obama administration move ahead in setting and executing a national broadband strategy, we are excited that the Schools, Health and Libraries Broadband Coalition will continue to participate in this important national debate about how to get the most out of our broadband infrastructure. Stay tuned. And if you’re interested in joining the Coalition, e-mail its coordinator, John Windhausen (JWindhausen@telepoly.com).