The U.S. should aim for 100M bps (bits per second) of broadband available to all U.S. residents by 2012 and 1G bps by 2015 in order to catch up to other countries that are moving forward with broadband rollouts, recommends a study released Monday.
The study, by the Baller Herbst Law Group of Washington, D.C., also calls on the U.S. to create a national broadband strategy that helps state programs bring broadband to underserved areas. Neither private industry nor government programs alone can build the broadband networks needed for the U.S. to compete globally in the coming years, said Jim Baller, founder of Baller Herbst and the study's co-author.
The e-NC Authority, a state program in North Carolina focused on broadband rollout, commissioned the study, and many of Baller's recommendations are focused on how North Carolina can get broadband to the 16 percent of the state's residents who don't yet have it. Among the recommendations: Grants to broadband providers, communities working together to finance broadband networks and funding for new broadband competitors.
Several speakers at a forum accompanying the study's release said other states can learn from North Carolina's broadband efforts. The state has used a combination of state, nonprofit and other funding to bring broadband to its rural areas, and in January, it awarded a US$1.2 million grant to help bring broadband to four rural counties.
But speakers at Monday's event said the U.S. government needs to step forward and help bring broadband to rural areas across the nation.
Michael Calabrese, director of the Wireless Future Program at the New America Foundation, compared broadband to electricity or telephony of the last century. Broadband is the "essential public infrastructure of the 21st century," he said.
The U.S. White House needs a broadband czar who coordinates how government agencies are promoting broadband, added Michael Copps, a member of the U.S. Federal Communications Commission. The U.S. Department of Human and Urban Development should require broadband hookups in all new public housing projects, and other agencies should work with local schools and libraries to extend their Internet access out into the community using wireless networks, he said.
Countries such as Japan and South Korea have faster broadband available for cheaper prices than in the U.S., and residents in those countries have an advantage over U.S. residents, speakers said.
"Broadband is a revolution," Copps said. "Revolutions have winners, and revolutions have losers."
The average download speed among consumer broadband services in the U.S. is 8.9M bps, slower than average speeds in 18 other OECD countries, according to the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).
Japan's average download speed is more than 10 times faster, at 93.7M bps, while France's is 44.2M bps and South Korea's is 43.3M bps, according to OECD numbers.
Some people will dispute that the U.S. needs 100M bps or 1G bps, as the study calls for, Baller said. "Great nations build key infrastructure with a lot of headroom," he said. "They do what it takes to be great and stay great."
Broadband can improve the economy in rural areas, bringing jobs that might otherwise be outsourced overseas, added Jonathan Adelstein, also an FCC member. Broadband can enable telecommuting, which is good for the environment, and it can help police and fire departments better communicate with each other, he added.
While the speakers at the event all called for a national broadband policy, some groups have questioned the need for major changes. Denny Strigl, Verizon Communication's president and chief operating officer, said OECD statistics showing the U.S. 15th out of 30 member nations in broadband penetration are misleading, partly because it fails to factor in population density.
The U.S. has the most broadband customers of any nation, and U.S. customers have more choice of providers than residents of most other countries, wrote Eric Rabe, Verizon's senior vice president for media relations in a blog post this month. A World Economic Forum study says the U.S. has the best Internet infrastructure, he added.
"While it hasn't quite achieved the notoriety of an urban myth, it's become commonplace to read that the United States lags other countries when it comes to broadband service," Rabe wrote on the Verizon Policy Blog. "It's time to put the myth of U.S. broadband inferiority to rest."