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Telecommuting Seen as Possible Boon to Economy

By Patrick Thibodeau

In an effort to improve sluggish broadband adoption nationally, high-tech firms want companies to let workers telework or telecommute as a way to improve productivity, reduce costs and encourage baby boomer employees nearing retirement to remain in the workforce.

The initiative has the backing of the Department of Commerce, which views broadband usage as an integral part of U.S. economic development. "Broadband deployment and usage will define the global winners and losers in the 21st century," said Bruce Mehlman, an assistant secretary at the Commerce Department. Telecommuting "is really the killer app right now that's out there for home broadband use."

Although broadband reaches some 90% of the U.S. population, only about 12% of households utilize it. Encouraging telework could help other industries delivering broadband services, such as videoconferencing and leisure-time content, say advocates. Harris Miller, president of the Information Technology Association of America (ITAA) in Arlington, Va., said telework "will cause a major bump" in the number of broadband users.

Mehlman attended a news conference last week to discuss the benefits of telework with officials from the ITAA and several leading high-tech firms, including AT&T Corp., Corning Inc., Siemens Information and Communication Networks Inc. and American Management Systems Inc.

Braden Allenby, a vice president at AT&T, said telecommuting policies have saved his company $25 million in real estate costs. "We just sold our corporate headquartersówe don't need it anymore," he said. AT&T also estimates workforce productivity gains of about $65 million, primarily the result of time saved by employees not having to drive to work. A survey of AT&T workers in the Washington area found that about 800, or 60%, of the company's 1,400 managers work from home at least occasionally. Those employees split the time they gain by not having to drive into work between work and personal activities, said Allenby.

"Teleworkers are very enthusiastic about teleworking, and so are their families," said Allenby, adding that 82% said telecommuting helps them better balance work and family. Retention is also critical, especially as baby boomers begin retiring, he added. Telecommuting lets older employees work on their terms and may keep them on the job, he said.

John Jay, broadband market manager at Corning in Corning, N.Y., said telecommuters' better quality of life "enhances our recruiting position." A national survey of 1,000 registered voters released last week found that 20% spent 30 to 60 minutes per day commuting, 7% spent from 60 to 90 minutes, and 10% spent more than 90 minutes.
0,10801,72899,00.html - July 22, 2002.