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New Obama Plan Seeks Affordable Broadband Service for All US Homes

President Barack Obama and the U.S. Congress have set aside more than $7 billion to build broadband Internet networks to bring high speed computer access to every U.S. home. Policy makers say construction of the network and its use will help create jobs in the global digital economy. The goal is to deliver affordable broadband service to people in rural and underserved communities.

Growing number of older Americans using Internet

"The first thing basically that I do when I get on the Internet is generally I go directly to my email," Mona Hunnicutt explains.

Hunnicutt, 58, spends more than two hours a day on the computer. She and 75-year-old Vivian Leeper are semi-retired and are among a growing number of older Americans who use high speed Internet everyday.

"You're forced more or less to get into using the computer and surfing the web and all to get your information," Leeper said.

They use the Internet at work and at home to download medical information, handle financial matters and keep in touch with family. Studies [by SeniorNet and Charles Schwab] suggest more than 50 million Americans over the age of 50 use the Internet. But many seniors cannot afford $30 - $40 a month for a high speed connection.

"I feel that seniors should be given priority discounts because a lot of seniors are on fixed incomes," Hunnicutt said. "And I think a lot of them really would use the Internet more. But they know that it is expensive."

New plan seeks affordable broadband service

President Barack Obama and some members of the U.S. Congress want to change that. As part of the economic stimulus, they approved more than $7 billion to launch a program that will deliver affordable broadband or high speed Internet access across the country.

"I stand by my goal of ensuring that every American has broadband access," Mr. Obama said. "No matter where you live, no matter how much money you have or don't have."

Daniel Wilson is executive director for program development for The National Caucus and Center on Black Aged. The organization works with those who provide broadband connections, such as AT&T and who teach low income African American senior citizens computer skills.

He says the key is to make broadband affordable.

"Many seniors that we talk to, do have the broadband," Wilson said. "But a lot of them do complain the price is a little but more than what they would be able to comfortably afford."

Advocates estimate 43 million U.S. households still use slower connections through telephone lines.

Julius Hollis, founder of the nonprofit Alliance for Digital Equality, promotes broadband usage for unserved or underserved minority communities.

"Parallel with building an infrastructure we have to look at the applications that we are using in broadband to better prepare our U.S. consumers how to functional in this digital world," Hollis said.

Broadband is useful tool for seniors

Richard Reeves, 75, pays his bills online. He spends countless hours browsing the Web, researching topics and sending digital photographs to his family and friends. Reeves believes 85 percent of seniors would use the Internet if they had high speed connections.

"Seniors have health issues and they can go on line and they can find things," Reeves said. "They have access to any health plan they have, everybody has a Web site and they can get on to it.

One study [by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development] says the country has dropped from fourth in the world to 15th in broadband penetration. And advocates say nationwide access would help not only seniors but anybody who relies on digital technology.