On Monday night, we were pleased to host a dinner discussion with FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski, on the topic of broadband Internet access and its role in job creation.
The topic is an important one: currently 19 million Americans are without Internet access. That represents 19 million Americans who could be working online, building their careers and bringing money into the U.S. economy. For a sense of the opportunity lost there, consider that, to date this year, businesses have spent $32 million hiring U.S. contractors online through oDesk. But that’s just the beginning—the overall online work market is expected to reach $1B by the end of this year.
The issue of broadband Internet access and its impact on job creation is especially critical when we look at people living in rural areas, where Internet connectivity is often lacking and local job opportunities can be limited. For the FCC’s visit, we looked at the potential for rural Americans in particular.
There are currently 2.5 million unemployed rural Americans, not to mention the number of underemployed. When you calculate the earnings potential of working online, bringing broadband Internet access to just the unemployed population represents billions of dollars in potential income from online work.
The Chairman and I also discussed the FCC’s goal to provide high-speed broadband Internet access to all Americans by the end of this decade. Chairman Genachowski noted that, while more than 80% of Americans have access to networks technically capable of high-speed service (100 Mbps or more), just 27% are being offered broadband services at those speeds. What’s more, U.S. prices for these higher-speed services are greater than in many other countries.
High-bandwidth categories of online work are growing particularly rapidly—135% year-over-year globally on oDesk. But without a high-speed Internet connection, contractors are unable to access that rapidly growing segment of work at all. Expanding the reach of high-speed Internet services will allow workers to capitalize on this promising opportunity.
The FCC is doing many great things to ensure that all Americans have access to broadband Internet access, from establishing the Connect America Fund and investing $4.5 billion to increase broadband deployment in difficult-to-reach areas of the U.S., to a Broadband Acceleration Initiative that aims to improve Internet speeds throughout the country.
Considering that between online work, telecommuting, distributed workforces and flexible work arrangements, the majority of workers will be working online in some capacity in the very near future, we believe these types of initiatives are essential to improving job competitiveness and work opportunities for everyone. There was a palpable energy that night around this discussion and the possibilities it brings, and we look forward to working with the FCC to help make this vision a reality. In addition, I encourage countries worldwide to think critically about their own broadband infrastructure and initiatives, to determine how they can best position their workers for success in the online economy.