Wednesday, April 8, 2009

"What's Broadband?" Billions in Stimulus Funds are at Stake

The headline I chose as the title for this post appeared in today's online issue of U.S.A. Today. It offers further proof that, when it comes to broadband internet policy, the United States seems to be on a different planet than people here in South Korea, in the EU and elsewhere. Congress has earmarked $7.2 billion in stimulus aid to deploy broadband in underserved parts of the USA. But what does that mean, really? The Federal Communications Commission is trying to come up with answers. At the request of lawmakers, the agency is in the process of defining "broadband," "underserved" and other terms. The FCC is advising the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, which will make the final call on how stimulus money gets doled out. Opinions about what constitutes "broadband" vary wildly. Big incumbents such as AT&T favor a tiered approach to the speed of data delivery, starting at a minimum of 200 kilobits per second. Tech giants such as Intel say 100 megabits is more reasonable, given the explosion of bandwidth-hogging applications such as video streaming. While this was the news from U.S.A. Today, Forbes carried an article with some advice for President Obama from the President of KADO, The Korea Agency for Digital Opportunity and Promotion. nearly 80% of the general public uses the Internet regularly--KADO has focused on helping people with disabilities, senior citizens, rural dwellers and low-income families get online. These groups have a much lower Internet adoption rate, around 40% combined. To reach people in remote areas, it partners with local governments and civic associations and even holds classes in private homes. Volunteers do most of the teaching. Son says KADO's education efforts have taught 10 million Koreans how to e-mail, search the Web and download files. Beyond its domestic programs, KADO also functions as the Korean government's global IT ambassador. Its international efforts include establishing IT training labs in places like Kenya and Laos, organizing a corps of Korean volunteers to teach IT education abroad and hosting an annual forum for IT experts from developing countries. All these programs, naturally, cost money. KADO has a staff of 142 and an annual budget of approximately $45 million, which is fully funded by various branches of the Korean government. KADO was originally established as Korea's Information Telecommunication Training Center in 1982 and has evolved into its current form over the past decade.

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