Nearly half of U.S. residents have Internet connection speeds that do not meet the Federal Communications Commission's minimum broadband standards and the U.S. ranks in the bottom half of the world in broadband speed, according to a new report.
As millions of holiday shoppers purchase computers and equipment to service or upgrade the ones they already have a major union, the NAACP and the Sierra Club have come together to launch a campaign for what they say is a much needed faster and more available Internet in the United States.
The 2010 Report of Internet Speeds in all 50 States, released Dec. 15 by the Communications Workers of America, also found that "there are wide areas of the nation, both rural and urban, that do not have any broadband access at all. We even trail countries like Romania in broadband speed."
The labor movement sees improvement and extension of Internet service as key to the entire economy.
"Just as the interstate highway system opened up the nation to fast transportation of goods and services in the 20th century, the road to economic prosperity in the 21st century rides on the Internet highway," said James Parks, a writer for AFL-CIO's national website.
"Improving broadband deployment, connection speeds, and adoption will help facilitate job and business growth across the nation," said CWA President Larry Cohen at a news conference where he released the report and announced that his union was working with the NAACP and the Sierra club in the new Internet campaign.
Hilary Shelton, the NAACP's senior vice president for advocacy and policy, explained why his group sees Internet speed and availability as a civil rights issue: "Every American, regardless of race, gender, ethnicity, income or geographic location should have affordable access to high-speed Internet. This is essential to economic growth and will help advance and improve our global competitiveness."
Lack of access to high-speed Internet is part of a continuing digital divide among Americans.
The CWA report shows that in urban and suburban areas, 70 percent of households subscribe to broadband, with only 50 percent of rural households subscribing to the service. For Americans who make more than $75,000 a year, 87 percent get broadband while only 45 percent who earn less than $30,000 subscribe.
Carl Pope, chairman of the Sierra club, was asked to explain why a movement to preserve the environment was joining labor and civil rights leaders to fight for a bigger, faster Internet.
"Broadband helps build sustainable communities by eliminating the barriers of distance, so people in rural areas can have access to information and the 21st century networks needed to strengthen and grow the economy," he said. "It helps conserve energy by cutting travel-related carbon emissions and promotes energy efficiency through broadband-enabled smart grids and smart meters."
The Obama administration, through the FCC, is pushing for completion of a National Broadband Plan, which the commission says, is a top priority. FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski has actually endorsed the CWA report, saying "it shows the need for investment in higher speed broadband networks to support America's critical applications."
The report shows that the current rate of increase in U.S. Internet connection speed is so slow, it will take the United States 60 years to catch up to current Internet speeds in South Korea, the country with the fastest Internet connections.
Northeastern states topped the graph on Internet speed, with western and southern states staying on the bottom. The five fastest states, according to the report are Delaware, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Maryland and New York. Among the slowest were Montana, Wyoming, Arkansas and Mississippi.
Read the full report here.
Photo: Outside an internet café in Romania. Kai Hindry, CC 2.0