The State of US Broadband

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The State of US Broadband

A few of my friends have ordered FiOS from Verizon and they seem happy to have broadband access at speeds once unavailable from phone companies. The sad thing is that even though broadband speeds are increasing in the US the cost of the connections are higher than in many other parts of the world and the speeds are still only a fraction of what others are experiencing in places like Asia.
 
If you want to learn about the current state of broadband in the US and some of the things that can be done to ensure we become more competitive you should read Eight Bold Steps to a national Broadband Policy (PDF) by Jim Baller and Casey Lide.
 
The article outlines how other countries continue to surpass the US in broadband penetration as well as broadband capacity for the dollar. China, Japan Sweden and Australia are all mentioned in the article and to be honest I continue to grow concerned about the state of broadband in the US.
 
We all know how important the internet is to enhancing productivity as well as the myriad other benefits it provides. I have always been in favor of a hands off style of government but if we have a system in this country to reward homeowners by allowing them to deduct interest on their mortgage payments why are we not coming up with a system to ensure all Americans have the highest speed connections at the lowest prices?
 
In my opinion there is no question that broadband access in the 21st century is as important as home ownership was in the 20th century.
 
Part of me hopes that by allowing a single AT&T to emerge we will see free markets and competition allow us to catch up to other countries. But the concern here is the phone companies have botched ISDN and sat on DSL technology for years without rolling it out. Even worse – AT&T even owned cable companies a while back and couldn’t figure out a viable business model and were forced to sell these assets off.
 
Perhaps the broadband strategy of this country should be to allow cable companies to continue to take share from the phone companies. Phone companies seem to have woken up to the fact that business as usual will not allow them to survive. The question is will the competition between just cable and phone companies give this country the highest speed internet access at the most reasonable price? Many argue a duopoly will result in two slow moving competitors with little interest in giving consumers world-class broadband access.
 
In an FCC report recently released, the agency estimates as a nationwide average, that high-speed DSL connections were available to 79% of the households to whom incumbent LECs could provide local telephone service, and that high-speed cable modem service was available to 93% of the households to whom cable system operators could provide cable TV service. This is promising news. In addition a chart detailing total high-speed lines from this report is obviously going in the right direction.
 
  
But one wonders if the chart above isnt indicative of every developed country in the world. It is tough to imagine a country where high speed lines are decreasing.
 
To me it seems obvious that if broadband access is so important to our country we need some sort of cohesive plan to ensure we meet measurable goals on preset deadlines.
 
This article reminds us all that President Bush declared on March 26 of 2004 that we should have universal, affordable access for broadband technology by 2007 and we ought to make sure as soon as possible thereafter, consumers have got plenty of choices when it comes to [their] broadband carrier.
 
It is challenging to see how the goal of choice will ever be met in the current telecom environment but I hope the Bush administration has some sort of ace up its sleeve which will ensure this will not be an idle pledge.
 
Moreover such ambitious statements cannot just happen out of the blue. How do competitive broadband providers get created overnight?
 
Perhaps wireless solutions will be that ace as companies like EarthLink have shown they can be tough broadband competitors in metropolitan areas. But what of the rest of the country? Will WiMAX solutions give us the competition we need to fulfill President Bush’s goals?
 
In closing here is the conclusion which comes from the above article. I could not agree with it more or have written it better myself:
 
The time is long overdue for us to recognize that every public and private entity and every resident in America will benefit from affordable access to world-class national communications infrastructure and that America’s failure to develop one promptly will seriously threaten our ability to remain the great nation to which we become accustomed. To be sure, the established communications providers have a significant role to play, but it would be folly for the United States to leave such a critical matter to them alone.
 
We must develop a National Broadband Strategy now. We have not a day to waste.
 
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