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In less than a decade, broadband Internet access has become a great game changer throughout the world. It is embedded in all aspects of our lives—from social networking and information sharing, to creating new business opportunities for individuals and businesses, to improving the delivery of public services such as healthcare and education. But despite the apparent success of over 1 billion broadband-enabled people on the planet, penetration rates as a percentage of population remain low, with an overall average of only around 25 percent and a wide disparity between so-called developed and developing countries. This digital divide exists even in developed countries because of the last-mile problem associated with terrestrial technologies since it is not financially viable to build out DSL, cable, or fiber in rural and even many ex-urban areas of lower population density.
In the U.S., as documented in a recent report from the Federal Communications Commission, overall penetration rates are over 50 percent. Yet an estimated 14 to 24 million American households and small businesses do not have access to broadband connectivity via land-based services. Hughes recognized the opportunity arising from this disparity years ago when it pioneered the development of affordable high-speed satellite Internet access, and today leads the market with over 550,000 subscribers on its nationwide HughesNet service.
Under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, the U.S. government is providing stimulus funding in the form of investments in broadband projects to bring jobs and economic opportunity to communities nationwide. As part of this initiative, Hughes was awarded $58.7 million of the total $100 million allocated for satellite projects as the only national provider of high-speed satellite Internet service to consumers across the U.S. Administered by the Department of Agriculture’s Rural Utilities Service (RUS), the investments in high-speed Internet infrastructure will help bridge the technological divide in communities that are being left in the 20th century economy and support improvements in healthcare, education, and public safety.
In the area of healthcare, for example, broadband access benefits local clinics by helping to speed the transfer of medical information and enabling access to specialists and telemedicine. Broadband also helps level the educational playing field by providing rural students access to the wealth of reference material available on the Internet, as well as opening the door to distance education. Equally important, broadband is vital to public safety, enabling first responders and public officials to share information and provide a rapid and coordinated response in emergencies.
Hughes is using the Recovery Act award to fund its Broadband NOW (No One Waits) program to expand broadband access in communities across the U.S. on a per-household basis, according to government eligibility guidelines. Under the NOW program, an estimated 106,000 qualified new subscribers living in unserved and underserved areas will receive a $551 subsidy to cover the costs of hardware and installation, and to fund discounted service plans.
"Hughes has made huge investments in our broadband business in the belief that every American, regardless of where they live, should have an opportunity to participate in the digital world," said Pradman Kaul, chief executive officer of Hughes. "Satellite plays an essential role in bridging the technological divide in America, and we are proud to be selected as the primary mover to make our high-speed Internet access available to the millions of underserved consumers and small businesses across the country."
With the help of the Recovery Act and Broadband NOW, Hughes is accelerating its consumer business, delivering the myriad benefits of broadband to households and small businesses across the U.S., and providing long-term economic and social benefits to their communities.