A third of Americans don't have high-speed Internet service at home, and that can be a challenge as daily life, from schoolwork to job hunts, increasingly goes online.
Now, the federal government is trying to open up access to more people with a new initiative to provide $150 laptops to free- and reduced-school lunch-eligible families, and two years of $9.95 per month Internet service to free school lunch-eligible families.
Executives and non-profit leaders from leading Internet service providers, technology companies, and non-profits have made in-kind commitments. "Connect to Compete" -- a national private and non-profit sector partnership run outside the government -- will implement the initiatives. Connect to Compete will launch national pilot programs beginning in the spring of 2012.
Julius Genachowski, chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, explained on "The Early Show" that, for many people, cost is a barrier, but other issues also hold people up from getting the Internet at home.
"Digital literacy is a barrier," he said. "A lot of people don't know how to use computers. A lot of people don't appreciate the value. Here is what this is about: We heard from ahigh school girl in Florida who is getting homework assignments that require her to use the Internet. That's good, because we want our kids to learn new technology to be able to participate in our economy, get jobs. Her family can't afford broadband at home. She goes to her local library at night after it's closed, in the parking lot, to use the wi-fi, so she can do homework, and that doesn't make any sense, and that's what we are trying tackle."
The initiative will cost taxpayers nothing, Genachowski said.
"This is a win/win for the country, and for all of the companies involved," he said. "If we can close that adoption gap, if we can go from 67 percent to a hundred percent, we will double the size of the online market in the United States. We will get more kids educated on new technologies. We will help people find jobs. One point: If you're looking for a job today and you don't have online access, you're in trouble, because all of the job postings are online."
"Early Show" co-anchor Erica Hill asked Genachowski whether "this also (is) the kick in the pants some of the companies needed to bring access to people? That is one of the problems in rural areas. Broadband may not have been available."
Genachowski said, "There really are two challenges, and we're tackling both. One is this deployment challenge. There are 20 million people who live in rural America, they just don't have broadband infrastructure where they live. Two weeks ago, we adopted major reforms of our rules, to update telephone programs to broadband programs. Today, we're focusing on the adoption initiative with low-cost broadband access and low-cost computers."