A ‘Contrived’ Broadband Crisis, Indeed

A news story in the Wednesday 10/12 edition of the New York Times announced that the Federal Communications Commission is partnering with Best Buy’s Geek Squad to teach Americans how to use the Internet and take full advantage of broadband services that are available to them.

According to the story, only 68% of Americans are taking advantage of broadband access. The author of the article compares that rate unfavorably to South Korea, where over 90% of Koreans use available broadband services.

The source of that statistic is not provided. But it’s a big “Uh Oh!” for the FCC, whose chairman Julius Genachowski has been on a one-man crusade to convince everyone that we have a wireless broadband spectrum crisis in the United States, and that TV stations should willingly give up 120 MHz of UHF TV channels (basically everything above channel 31) to address this ‘crisis.’

His clarion calls have also been parroted by the head of the Consumer Electronics Association, Gary Shapiro. Neither individual has provided substantive proof to back up their claims, leading many of us industry analysts to believe that the impetus for this fabricated crisis is being driven by telecoms like Verizon and AT&T at the expense of millions of Americans who rely on free, over-the-air digital TV as a counter to high-priced cable TV subscription plans.

Three reasons were cited in the article for the reluctance or refusal of 32% of Americans to sign up for and take advantage of ‘available’ broadband services to surf the Web. The first was the cost of Internet services and the cost of computers. Number two was not knowing how to use a computer, and number three was ‘not understanding why the Internet is relevant.’

The plan is for Geek Squad staff to partner with service organizations like Boys and Girls Clubs, Goodwill and 4-H in 20 cities to offer training in basic computer literacy. Microsoft is also on-board,  and will offer training in stores, schools, and libraries.

Now, I am not not by nature a political animal. But this seems like a waste of taxpayer money to me, particularly if Best Buy is deriving any benefit from the program.

Mr. Chairman: Have you not been reading the papers lately? (Sorry, I should have said ‘reading the on-line news sites.’) There are hundreds of thousands of newly-minted college graduates who cannot find jobs that pay decently, and are taking whatever work they can find to cover their monthly bills and student loans.

I’ll bet a sizable number are quite computer-literate and would be quite happy to instruct Americans about the ecstasies of ordering from Amazon, friending on Facebook, and streaming from Netflix, in return for a modest stipend from Washington, DC. Sort of a “Bits Corps” program, if you will. Why not put them to work? Best Buy doesn’t need the money.

I’d also like to mention that I know a few people who spend little or no time on the Internet, and have acquaintances that don’t even own a computer. They have no interest in surfing the Web and are quite happy functioning in what to them is a ‘normal’ world. Call them Luddites if you will, but they are co-existing with us ‘connected’ folks quite nicely.

It should not be the federal government’s job to make sure 100% of Americans know how to use a computer and do so on a regular basis. That is a choice for individual citizens to make. If Washington wants to establish an outreach program to help citizens get over a technology learning curve ‘hump’ so they can then make use of broadband connectivity, fine. But let it be run by volunteers in the finest spirit of our country, not government-subsidized employees of a big box retailer.

As for the ‘wireless spectrum crisis;’ we’ve called you out on it, Mr. Genachowski. It is a claim fabricated out of whole cloth and you should just drop it and leave what’s left of the free broadcast TV spectrum alone. Stop penalizing financially-pressed Americans by taking away one of the very few really good deals left out there…free HDTV.

Nuff said!