FCC, SBA Partner To Help Small Businesses Tap Into Broadband

The FCC will enlist computer and online services companies in a public-private partnership to help small and diverse businesses tap into broadband, and at the same time review its competition rules to make sure those businesses can compete.

That is according to FCC Chairman Julius Genachwoski and the head of the Small Business Administration, Karen Mills, who Thursday outlined the national broadband plan's proposals to help small businesses.

The chairman pointed out that small businesses account for the majority of new jobs. Boosting their broadband profile, he said, would be a double benefit, increasing its profits while allowing it to reduce costs, which would mean even more jobs.

Mills said that while 95% of small businesses have some broadband access, it is mostly consumer grade, and spotty in rural areas.

Genachowski said the broadband plan, due to Congress March 17, will look to improve access in rural areas, and provide "fatter and more robust" pipes in larger cities. He pointed out that 26% of rural small businesses don't have access to cable modem service, and 9% don't have access even to DSL.

He also said that half of small businesses don't take advantage of mobile broadband and suggested that needed to change as well.

Among the broadband plan's small business elements will be to review the FCC's competition rules, Genachowski said, to make sure small businesses benefit from "robust competition."

It will also suggest funding new small business and women's development centers to give small and diverse businesses both the access to broadband and the education and tools to use it to their best advantage to compete in current markets and find new ones.

Genachowski said he would look to the hardware, software, and online services sectors to provide some of the tools, training and funding for the public-private partnership.

Mills said broadband was critical so small business' long-term interests.

The FCC has been previewing various working recommendations of the plan over the past several weeks.

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.