FCC plan could bring high-speed web to campuses, communities

Bringing reliable broadband internet service to communities surrounding colleges and universities could persuade students to lay down roots after graduation. But without high-speed web access that has become expected in many American cities, recent graduates might look elsewhere to live and work, Goldman said.

“If they’ve lived on campus during their education and learn to expect that kind of [broadband connection], why the heck would they stick around?” he said.

FCC commissioners and staff members collected more than 75,000 pages of public comments that came from 36 workshops and nine field hearings about the national broadband initiative. The commission posted 131 blog posts on the topic over the past year, drawing almost 1,500 reader comments.

The FCC also ventured into social networking, collecting 335,000 Twitter followers.

Opponents of the FCC’s broadband plan said March 16 that commissioners should bring broadband access to Americans through a more market-based approach.

The Competitive Enterprise Institute, a Washington, D.C.-based public interest group that advocates against government intervention, said in a statement that the FCC’s high-speed internet plan amounted to a failed effort, because “government-centric efforts to expand telecommunications networks suffer from inefficiencies, waste, and fraud.

“Actual consumer demand should drive the growth of broadband networks, not government slush funds,” the statement continued. “Federal programs to subsidize the expansion of broadband service, whether funded via new taxes on broadband users or spectrum auction proceeds, amount to economically destructive wealth-redistribution schemes that divert resources from productive uses to unproductive ones.”

The Technology Policy Institute, a communications industry think tank funded by companies including Verizon, AT&T, and Comcast, have strongly opposed the FCC’s attempt to reclassify broadband internet as a common carriage service, like phone service. This would place far more stringent regulation on broadband services—a move the institute said would stifle industry investment and innovation.

Vice President Joe Biden announced in December that the federal government would begin funding worthy projects that, backed by billions in stimulus dollars, would build long-awaited fiber-optic networks in rural areas not served by high-bandwidth web connections in larger nearby cities.

The University of Maine is among the campuses involved in the broadband expansion program. Maine will partner with Biddleford Internet Corp.—along with several other companies—to build three fiber optic rings across 1,100 miles of rural area with $25.4 million in stimulus funding.

The massive network will connect 10 University of Maine campuses and pass through about 100 communities with more than 110,000 houses, according to the government’s projections.

University of Maine officials said only college campuses located on or near the Interstate-95 corridor have access to reliable broadband connections. Students and faculty in rural areas only have access to networks that are strained as campuses grow and more people connect to the web and use valuable but limited bandwidth.

The University of New Mexico joined the New Mexico State Library to propose a plan designed to give broadband access to 3,000 homes and 1,000 businesses. The plan was awarded $1.4 million in federal funding.

New Mexico is among the states with the fewest web users. The state ranks 36th nationally in broadband access and 46th in percentage of internet users.

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