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Genachowski says 'digital divide' among today's most important civil rights issues

FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski told those gathered for the Minority Media and Telecom Council Broadband and Social Justice Summit in Washington, D.C., Jan. 20 that closing the digital divide separating those with and without broadband Internet service is “one of the most important civil rights issues of our time.”

Speaking at the Westin Grand Hotel, the chairman of the FCC said that while progress has been, made many groups “find themselves on the wrong side of a digital divide.”

Quoting statistics indicating that 56 percent of African-Americans now have broadband at home and less than half of Hispanics, low-income Americans and rural Americans have adopted broadband, Genachowski said the costs of digital exclusion are too high. Increasingly, job postings are only available online.

“If you’re not online, you can’t find or apply for a job,” he said.

Overall, about one-third of Americans, nearly 100 million people, “still have not adopted broadband,” he said. “Broadband is no longer a luxury. It is a necessity for full participation in our 21st-century economy and society,” Genachowski said.

One success helping to close the digital divide will be certain elements of the agency’s recent approval of the Comcast-NBCU merger. As part of the deal, Comcast will make high-speed Internet available for less than $10 per month to 2.5 million low-income households, he said. The company also will provide personal computers, netbooks and other equipment for less than $150.

Additionally, Comcast has agreed to extend its broadband network to include 400,000 more homes and provide free broadband to 600 institutions, including libraries and schools in underserved, low-income areas, he said.

The FCC chairman traversed some well-covered territory in his remarks, including once more pitching the importance of moving forward with the agency’s National Broadband Plan, calling for incentive auctions to clear TV broadcast spectrum, reiterating the scale of the predicted spectrum crunch and articulating elements of the commission’s mobile broadband agenda.