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FCC identifies America’s unwired

For most Americans, a connection to high-speed access to the Internet at home is as vital as electricity, heat and water. However, about one-third of the population — about 93 million people — has chosen not to connect. The biggest reason, they say, is high cost.

The FCC, which is about to present its broadband plan to Congress, found that of the 93 million people without broadband identified by the study, about 80 million are adults. Small numbers of them access the Internet by dial-up connections, or outside the home at places like offices or libraries, but most never log on anywhere.

Nonusers are disproportionately older and more likely to live in rural areas. Those with household incomes of less than $50,000 are “much less likely” to have broadband access. Asked about the reasons for not having broadband at home, almost half of respondents cited a prohibitive cost, and almost as many said they were uncomfortable using a computer.

The FCC’s broadband plan is expected to recommend, among other elements, an expansion of broadband adoption from the current 65 percent to more than 90 percent at faster access speeds.

The nation’s largest Internet service providers fear the FCC will place them under the agency’s jurisdiction in order to gain subscribers. Last week, comments from AT&T and Verizon Communications warned that further attempts to regulate them could deter their investments in broadband networks. Such a move, the telcos argued, would be “extremist,” entailing too many onerous rules for the fast-moving broadband industry.

Public Knowledge, a group that advocates digital rights, has urged the FCC to classify those Internet service providers alongside telephone services, which are firmly under the agency’s purview. Some analysts say the agency would have to reclassify those services in order to remain relevant, as the Internet becomes a primary vehicle for communication and entertainment.