Although broadband is available to most Americans, large disparities exist among states, income levels, urban and rural areas and racial and ethnic groups. A Pew report finds that many states are looking at broadband as a potential vehicle for promoting economic growth. A growing number of states are stepping up efforts to expand high-speed Internet in the wake of the federal government's national plan and the availability of stimulus funds. Lori Grange is deputy director of the Pew Center on the States.
"Texas released just last week a map of where Texas stands in terms of who's got it and at what speeds. Turns out that about 96 percent of Texas households have access to broadband. But access doesn't necessarily mean people actually have it in their homes. Only about 62 percent of Texas consumers are actually using broadband at home. And about 250,000 homes, principally in rural areas, don't have any access at all."
Grange says beyond availability, Texas and other states need to address speed and quality.
"You know, a significant amount — about 86 percent of Texans, at least as of December, 2008 — had access to about speeds of 200 kilobits. That's a very basic connection. That essentially is a dial-up speed that enables you to get e-mail. About 78 percent had access to speeds of at least 768 kilobits, and that gets you basic audio and video, but still pretty slow. What the federal government hopes is that states — including Texas — will move to goals of, say, four megabits per second."
The FCC has historically regulated telephone providers, but is currently clarifying its oversight over broadband and broadband providers. That means defining the Internet as a telecommunications service rather than an information service.