California gets serious about closing the digital divide

A few days ago, the State of California took an important step forward for millions of Americans who lack access to the communication infrastructure of the 21st century:

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has appointed 21 technology leaders--a third from the Bay Area--to a Broadband Task Force that will join forces with another new agency to engineer plans to remove barriers to high-speed cable and wireless access.

At least $460 million soon will be available for Schwarzenegger and legislators to implement proposals to bridge the "digital divide" — the lack of broadband data transmission to rural and poor urban areas.

Forecasted benefits range from "improving education and boosting high-tech jobs to lowering consumer access costs and allowing more state agency videoconferencing that saves taxpayers money."

The article goes on to describe one particular area that will benefit:

About $400 million will be available from the education bond that voters approved last month. The money will be earmarked for development of telemedicine, which allows doctors to use high-speed data transmission to examine patients hundreds of miles away.

Check out our telemedicine section for more information on this important -- and cost-effective -- benefit of expanded internet infrastructure.

From an economic standpoint, these statistics are quite compelling:

The California Communications Association estimates that every dollar invested in broadband networks generates $3 in economic activity and that every $1 billion in telecom capital spending equates to 7,000 new jobs.

That's serious economic potential for California, but consider the numbers put forward by a Criterion Economics study examining the economic benefit of universal access to high-speed internet nationwide:

Thus, a reasonable figure for the total annual benefits to the U.S. economy of the widespread adoption of broadband access in all its forms – ADSL, cable modems, satellites, 3G wireless, and others – could be more than 400 billion dollars per year. Faster rollout of high-speed access services gives us these benefits earlier. A reasonable estimate of the net present value of faster rollout of broadband is as much as 500 billion dollars. Under the more modest scenario of 50 percent adoption, the net present value of faster rollout would be about 140 billion dollars.

At 76 pages, it's a pretty lengthy, but very interesting report.

 <p><a href="http://www.insidebayarea.com/trivalleyherald/ci_4814803 " target="_blank">Wireless for all is task force's aim</a> (original article)</p>
<p><a href="http://speedmatters.org/potential/health-care.html" target="_blank">SpeedMatters.org Telemedicine section</a></p>
<p><a href="http://files.cwa-union.org/SpeedMatters/EconomicBenefitofBroadband_Brookings_2001.pdf" target="_blank">The $500 Billion Opportunity: The Potential Economic Benefit of Widespread Diffusion of Broadband Internet Access</a> (PDF)</p>