Power to the people

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Agreeing that broadband Internet access is the way to

shift from the information slow lane onto the promised superhighway,

governors spent Sunday afternoon considering ways to get America that

powerful hookup.

A group of governors, in town for the National Governors' Association's

winter meeting, convened the Committee on Economic Development and Commerce

primarily to discuss how to make broadband access easier and cheaper. Less

than 2 million people now use the speedy yet expensive Digital Subscriber

Lines (DSL). But by 2004 that number is expected to explode to 25 million.

Deborah Lathen, chief of the Federal Communications Commission's Cable

Services Bureau, compared the difference between a DSL Internet connection

and a regular phone line connection to the difference between a garden hose

and a high-pressure fire hose. She said it would take someone downloading

the movie "Titanic" from a modem connection 42 hours — it would take a DSL

subscriber just nine minutes.

"If that's what broadband can do for entertainment, imagine what it can do

for commerce, education and health care," Lathen told the governors. "It's

crucial for chief executives to understand the potential of broadband."

Although the governors did not vote on a resolution at this meeting, they

often use the winter sessions to privately establish their legislative

agendas. Gov. John Rowland of Connecticut said the broadband issues he and

others must resolve include access, price and choice — making sure people

can choose their broadband access providers — right now many people are

stuck with just one area cable provider.

Another huge question that's already pitting Internet service providers

against telecom providers and state and local governments is whether the

government can force telecom companies to share their cables with other

providers. Some fear that if ISPs can't get in on the cable lines to

provide

DSL competition, cable companies will monopolize the market and price

lower-income people out. Cable companies argue they shouldn't have to share

the cable lines they invested in.

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