US to unveil broadband plan Mar 17, sees barriers

* FCC will submit broadband plan to Congress on Mar 17

* 93 million Americans without broadband -- FCC

* Cost, digital literacy, relevance are major barriers-FCC

WASHINGTON, Feb 23 (Reuters) - U.S. communications regulators will unveil on March 17 a blueprint aimed at bringing fast affordable Internet access to more than 90 million Americans being held back by fees and technology.

The Federal Communications Commission said on Tuesday that the long-awaited National Broadband Plan will try to help connect 93 million Americans to high-speed Internet to find jobs, access educational and healthcare services, and reduce household energy costs.

“In the 21st century, a digital divide is an opportunity divide,” FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski said in a statement, highlighting that various roadblocks are stopping one-third of the United States from subscribing to broadband.

“To bolster American competitiveness abroad and create the jobs of the future here at home, we need to make sure that all Americans have the skills and means to fully participate in the digital economy.”

The FCC, which in August started a series of fact-finding workshops, will submit its recommendations to Congress on March 17, in an effort to lift the United States out of the 19th spot behind Japan, Korea and France -- the leaders in a 2008 world ranking for broadband speed.

In the last couple of weeks the FCC has begun publicly talking about key aspects of the plan. More is expected in the coming days leading up to March 17.

Last week Genachowski said he wants Internet service providers to offer a minimum connection speed of 100 megabits per second by 2020, compared with current industry estimates of less than 4 Mbps.

The benchmark was announced a week after Google Inc GOOG.O rattled ISPs with its own plan to build a super-fast Internet network but Google's plan was met with some skepticism from some providers such as AT&T Inc T.N.

During a speech at the Brookings Institution late Tuesday morning, Genachowski is expected to highlight why the broadband plan is essential to helping 93 million Americans overcome barriers to subscribing to broadband service at home.

With President Barack Obama pushing for ubiquitous high-speed Internet throughout the country, Genachowski is also expected to discuss the importance of spectrum for mobile broadband in a speech Wednesday.


For subscribers, broadband on average costs $40.68 a month but those who bundle it with other services pay $37.70, the FCC said. Standalone broadband subscribers pay an average of $46.25 a month.

In a report titled “Broadband Adoption and Use in America,” the FCC identified affordability, digital literacy and relevance as the three main barriers to greater broadband subscription among 80 million adults and 13 million children over the age of five.

The FCC, after having surveyed random Americans in October and November, said 28 million Americans, or 36 percent, said monthly fees and the cost of buying a computer are holding them back from subscribing to broadband service.

Another 22 percent said they simply don’t understand the technology, and they are concerned about inappropriate content or the safety of their personal information.

Nineteen percent said the Internet is a waste of time or they have no interest in online content, and some said they are happy with their current slower dial-up service.

Other non-adopters said broadband is either not offered in their communities or already have access at work, the FCC said. Some of those without broadband service cited facing more than one reason for not subscribing.

John Horrigan, FCC’s director of consumer research for the broadband project, said U.S. officials will have to focus on helping Americans overcome those key hurdles, without specifically saying how the FCC will address those issues.

“The gap in broadband adoption is a problem with many different dimensions that will require many different solutions,” he said.

Reporting by John Poirier; Editing by Bernard Orr