Comcaster Seeks Federal Help For Broadband Education
by John Eggerton 10/12/2009 2:00:00 AM

Washington — If you build it, help them buy it and teach them to use it, they will come.

That was the message from Bill Watson, vice president and general manager of Comcast’s Charleston, S.C., system, at a Federal Communications Commission field hearing in that city on broadband adoption last week.

While more than 90% of Americans have access to broadband, a third of them don’t take it. The agency wants to close that gap as part of its national broadband plan, due to Congress Feb. 17.

Democratic FCC commissioner Mignon Clyburn — a South Carolinian who has made it her mission to close the adoption gap — presided over the hearing, joined by Democrat Michael Copps.

According to Watson, while 63% of American homes have adopted broadband, that figure is only 42% for South Carolina.

His advice: Government should help by integrating broadband into the fabric of the community. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services could “make broadband an essential and cost-effective part of medical monitoring, diagnosis and treatment.” The Department of Energy could educate the public on using broadband for smart energy projects. Watson proposed “creatively integrating” broadband education in collaboration with various federal agencies.

Tax credits or subsidies also could help the economically challenged pay for computers or broadband access. South Korea provides low-income students with a computer and five years worth of free Internet access if they meet certain scholastic performance goals, Watson said.

Comcast is working with the nonprofit One Economy on the Digital Connectors program, which it plans to expand to 22 cities. Through the program, kids aged 14 to 21 from “diverse, low-income backgrounds” get digital literacy training they will share with others in their communities.”