August 21, 2012
Access to fast Internet is spreading in the U.S., but about 19 million Americans can't get it, according to a new government report out Tuesday. The report by the Federal Communications Commission shows improvement from the agency's data last year that showed 26 million were without access to such Internet service. The FCC says its latest report was based on data it had as of June 2011. The decline partially reflects Internet service providers' expansion beyond suburbs, but the FCC also attributes it to data collection that improved from its previous efforts.
The lack of access continues to hamper rural Americans in particular. About 14.5 million rural Americans - or 23.7% of 61 million people living in rural areas - had no fast Internet service offered for their homes. In contrast, only 1.8% Americans living in non-rural areas - 4.5 million out of 254.9 million - had no broadband access. The FCC categorizes an Internet service as "broadband" if it transmits at a speed of at least 4 megabits per second.
The report's ranking of states again underscored the correlation between broadband access and economic productivity. Economically struggling states fared worse than more thriving areas of the country. West Virginia had the least amount of access, with 45.9% of the state without broadband access. Montana (26.7%), South Dakota (21.1%) and Alaska (19.6%) followed. But the access issue for rural Americans wasn't isolated to the states with few large cities. In California, more than 35% of rural residents couldn't order a broadband account even if they wanted it. Similarly, mobile broadband Internet services delivered by wireless carriers also continued to widen nationwide, but nearly 20 million Americans - or 6.2% of the total population - had no access, the report says.
In July, the FCC announced it'll spend $115 million to subsidize broadband Internet providers' efforts to expand service to rural parts of the U.S. The companies that accept the subsidies from the first phase of the Connect America Fund - $775 per household connected - will be required to invest in and complete the work of building the network infrastructure within three years. About 400,000 residents in 37 states will gain access upon completion, the FCC estimates.
FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski said the FCC's goal is to make broadband available by 2020 to all 19 million Americans who lack access. "Your chance of getting a job is lower if you don't have broadband. Job postings have moved online," he said. The FCC launched the Connect America Fund last year when it made changes to the Universal Service Fund, which was established to deliver telephone connections to rural towns. USA Today
The Corbett administration has issued a strong rebuke to what it called an "unprecedented" request by the U.S. Justice Department for information related to the state's new voter identification law.
In a letter dated Friday, Corbett's general counsel, James D. Schultz, wrote that the federal government had no legal authority to make such a request, and suggested the Justice Department's inquiry was "fueled" by politics. Nonetheless, Schultz's letter said, the state might "voluntarily" comply with the request if federal officials first promise not to disclose confidential data about voters.
In July, the Justice Department asked the Corbett administration to document its initial estimate that 99 percent of the state's voters had the photo identification they would need to cast ballots in the Nov. 6 election. That estimate was later amended by the Department of State, which runs elections, to reflect that up to 9.2 percent of voters did not have valid driver's licenses or PennDot non-driver photo ID. Still later, a closer look at the PennDot data suggested that figure might be too high. The Justice Department said it wanted the information in order to gauge whether the state's new law complies with the 1965 Voting Rights Act's ban on election laws or practices that discriminate on the basis of race, color, or language.
At first, the Corbett administration said it would compile the information the Justice Department is seeking. But Schultz wrote that federal officials were reaching outside their purview in seeking voter registration rolls and PennDot driver's license lists. "In light of your absence of authority for your request for information I question whether your inquiry is truly motivated by a desire to assess compliance with federal voting laws, or rather is fueled by political motivation," he wrote in a letter to assistant attorney general Thomas Perez in the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division. The Justice Department did not respond Monday to a request for comment.
Schultz's letter also contends there is no need to assess whether the ID law complies with federal antidiscrimination law because Commonwealth Court Judge Robert E. Simpson effectively did so last week. Simpson denied a request to block enforcement of the law, and found no evidence of discrimination. Schultz wrote that the judge's 70-page ruling, which has been appealed to the state Supreme Court, provided "all the assessment necessary." He also asked federal officials to promise in writing, as lawyers in the legal challenge had, not to disclose what he termed "confidential" data about Pennsylvanians' voter identifications. Philadelphia Inquirer
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