Millions of college students are returning to classes and millions of Americans who already have a good education are looking for jobs in this challenging economy. Both groups face similar challenges in making limited budgets work while striving to build future careers in an increasingly competitive marketplace. However, they also share one potentially game-changing ally through the power of high-speed Internet.
At Broadband for America our goals are clear: Make broadband access available to every home and business in the nation, encourage continued private sector investment and competition and, finally, get all Americans online so that content creators, providers and government agencies can use the Internet to promote societal improvements and economic growth.
So, why in this challenging economic climate should making high-speed Internet access and adoption universal be such a priority?
Broadband access is the great equalizer, leveling the playing field so that every willing and able person, no matter their station in life, has access to the information and tools necessary to achieve the American Dream. More and more, job listings are exclusively available online and as technology evolves nearly every occupation now requires a basic level of digital literacy with web navigation, email access and participation in social media. To that end, Internet access and adoption opens doors to potential jobs and opportunities that would otherwise not be available to every American. Broadband eliminates so many barriers to entry for so many different people that it's actually become a barrier to entry in and of itself if you're not getting online on a regular basis.
Education is about opportunity. In today's world, a college education is no longer a luxury, but a fundamental expectation for most Americans looking for a steady and well-paying job. Unfortunately, many of the obstacles to getting that education remain in place: college isn't cheap, not everyone has access to a local campus and college textbooks are more expensive than ever. Broadband can't yet eliminate all of those obstacles in the road, but it does open up a viable path for millions of people. More colleges are now offering courses online, which are often less-expensive and provide a geographic alternative for students in rural areas. They also offer flexible class times for those holding down jobs or helping to raise a family. The Internet also plays host to thousands of communities where students can find discounted books and online study groups, rather than stretching already tight funds on tutors and specialized textbooks.
Most Americans now go to college to get the kind of education and the network of professional connections they need to succeed in the private sector. In 2008, the broadband/information technology sectors of the economy created nearly half of all the new jobs in America. Overall, the Internet directly employs 1.2 million individuals and supports an additional two million members of our country's workforce, contributing nearly $900 billion annually to the economy. And as large as those numbers already are, they are expected to grow exponentially over the next several years.
We know that Americans are eager to get back to work. Creating good paying jobs is not a partisan issue, it's something every one of us can, and should, get behind. Broadband providers have invested more than $100 billion over the past two years alone, creating thousands of jobs in the design, production, installation and maintenance of their networks. And that investment is helping to unleash the creative energies of the American workforce toward leading a technology-driven recovery in both new and traditional ways.
Turning our economy around and staying ahead of the global marketplace for years to come requires the hard work and commitment of all Americans. We know that commitment is already in place. What those millions of Americans need now is a national broadband plan that opens the doors of opportunity for every American to take full advantage of. Getting every home and business connected to broadband is the key to keeping the American Dream alive and accessible for us all.
Michael K. Powell is Broadband for America (BfA) Honorary Co-Chairman