At its latest hearing on the national broadband plan, the FCC highlighted the importance of expanding broadband access to small businesses as it sought advice from participants on what the agency could do to accelerate broadband deployment to small businesses. Monday’s field hearing in Chicago constitutes the FCC’s final public hearing on the national broadband plan this year. While emphasizing that broadband is “critical to helping small businesses operate more efficiently and compete globally,” FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski told the audience in his opening statement that “many small businesses do not have access to a basic broadband connection,” as he cited estimates that 26 percent of rural businesses lack access to a standard cable modem and nine percent “don’t have DSL.” Adding that small businesses have created 93 percent of new jobs in the U.S. over the past 15 years, Genachowski asked for input on opportunities to expand broadband to small business, the consequences of inaction, barriers to increasing online uptake by small businesses, and the FCC’s role in accelerating deployment. Describing broadband as an engine of small business growth, Chicago Department of Business Affairs commissioner Norma Reyes lamented that many areas of Chicago lack access to high-speed broadband service while small businesses comprise 90% of all businesses in the city. As Reyes argued that the national broadband plan will only be able to effectuate change if it creates a “true partnership of the localities, the private sector, and the nonprofits,” Matthew Guilford, a program manager in Chicago’s Department of Innovation and Technology, said the broadband plan could facilitate broadband deployment in unserved and underserved commercial and industrial areas by providing targeted grants in these areas. Asserting that the process of jump-starting a laggard national economy “has to start with small business,” James Geiger, the CEO of IP-based phone carrier CBeyond, said the FCC should require major carriers to provide competitors with access to broadband capacity that companies such as his need to offer high-speed services to small business customers. Noting that “the big phone companies are the only ones with access to the fastest broadband pipes, but they’re focused on residential, consumer markets and large enterprise customers,” Geiger proclaimed that FCC action in this area could enable small businesses “to experience the efficiencies of cloud computing, offsite data security, high-resolution video conferencing, and many, many other sophisticated applications.”