Intel, Dell, Lenovo Part of Broadband Accessibility Initiative

A number of technology providers, including Intel, Dell, Lenovo and Fujitsu, are part of an initiative spearheaded by Connected Nation to expand access to broadband to underserved areas such as rural regions and inner cities. The Every Citizen Online program is seeking $24 million in federal economic stimulus money to bring 150,000 low-cost PCs bundled with discounted broadband service to low-income families in 20 states and Puerto Rico.

Intel and Dell are among a number of technology vendors involved in an initiative to greatly expand the reach of broadband Internet connectivity to underserved and rural areas in the United States.

The Every Citizen Online project, headed by the Connected Nation organization, is seeking $24 million in federal stimulus money to fund the initiative, which includes discounted monthly broadband service and would enable low-income residents and other populations that are not connected to the Internet to buy PCs at deeply reduced rates via instant rebates.

The $24 million in federal funding would be paired with $6 million from private sources to support the two-year program.

Other IT vendors participating in the initiative are Fujitsu, Lenovo, Velocity Micro and ZT Systems, as well as local and regional broadband providers, according to the application filed with the federal government for the stimulus money.

The group should find out in December if they'll be granted the stimulus money, according to an Intel spokesperson.

The Obama administration has made the expansion of broadband Internet access in the United States a priority of its economic recovery push, setting aside $7.2 billion in economic stimulus money for the effort. The money is managed by the Commerce Department's National Telecommunications and Information Administration and the Agriculture Department's Rural Utilities Service.

Eric Greenman, service provider marketing manager for Intel, said the chip maker for years has been a proponent of wider broadband accessibility and broadband technology, such as WiMax, and the Connected Nation push dovetails with Intel's work in the area.

"How do we make sure the masses out there have access to PCs and the Internet?" Greenman said in an interview. "How do you get these folks who are on one side of the digital divide ... onto [the Internet]? What can we do with the stimulus money to enable these people who aren't currently being reached [to have Internet access]?"

There are challenges in underserved areas that need to be overcome, he said. In rural areas, the issue is access, which is not always readily available. In other places, such as inner cities, there is access, but cost is a roadblock.

There also is the issue of relevance, Greenman said: People who have not had Internet access may get it, but that access needs to come with an educational component to help people understand how it can help their lives.

Todd Thibodeaux, president and CEO of CompTIA (Computing Technology Industry Association), agreed. It will be a victory if the country can increase broadband access to underserved areas, but unless the people in those regions embrace it, that access will have a limited impact, Thibodeaux said in an interview.

"I'm optimistic that the infrastructure will get there, but it will be the adoption level" that's key, Thibodeaux said. "In the rural areas, we're going to need education."

The benefits for these people are significant, Thibodeaux said. More and more commerce is being done over the Internet, and other aspects of people's lives, from interaction with government agencies to education, also are finding homes on the Web.

The initial phase of Connected Nation's initiative aims to bring 150,000 PCs-bundled with discount broadband services-into homes in these underserved areas, creating about 500,000 new broadband users, according to the application for federal funds.

If that happens, another result will be the creation or saving of 31,701 jobs, according to Connected Nation.

Nationwide, if the hurdles of computer ownership and broadband services were cleared, as many as 7 million more households could get home broadband services, Connected Nation said. The program is targeting areas in 20 states-including Arkansas, Iowa, Idaho, Minnesota, New York and Texas-as well as Puerto Rico.

Connected Nation already has had programs in some of these states. According to assessments done by ConnectKentucky in 2005 and 2007, computer ownership among low-income families in the participating counties rose about four times faster than among families in other counties, while Internet adoption grew more than 10 times faster.