We need better broadband, and soon.
The power of the Internet. In the small town of Diller, Nebraska, Blue Valley Meats doubled its employees and saw 40 percent growth by setting up a Web site and selling its beef online. But this happened only after Diller got broadband.
Which is why the Recovery Act passed by Congress instructed the Federal Communication Commission to develop a strategy to bring the benefits of high-speed Internet to all Americans. Dubbed the National Broadband Plan, the FCC’s response will be made public next month.
In a speech this week to the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners, FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski gave a partial preview of what the report will contain. The Commission’s big picture thinking is promising.
“We are at a crossroads, said Genachowski. “For while the United States invented the Internet, when it comes to broadband we have fallen behind. One frequently cited survey ranks us 16th in the world; others rank us a few places higher. But no one can argue that we are leading the world in broadband, or are even as close as we should be. And I can tell you from speaking to my counterparts in other countries, the rest of the world is not sitting around waiting for us to catch up.”
We’ve fallen behind and need to do better. Broadband is a platform for growth. And the broader the bandwidth, the bigger the benefits. Genachowski looked at small businesses, which have accounted for more than 22 million new American jobs over the last 15 years. “Broadband allows small business to think big and grow bigger. With a high-speed Internet connection and the emergence of cloud computing, every small business can have access to a world-class IT system and a national, indeed, global marketplace.”
The internet benefits every facet of society. It helps those out of work find new jobs. Most job postings are now found online only, and if you don’t have Internet access, you can’t apply. And if you don’t have broadband, you can’t take advantage of online training for the jobs that are available. The Veterans Administration created a telehealth program that has reduced hospitalizations by 19 percent. Online high school graduates are twice as likely to go to college as those who aren’t, and that college students double their learning productivity when using online systems.
The list of benefits could go on and on.
So when we talk about broadband, how much is enough? As I blogged last week, Google announced it will develop an open access Internet service to select American homes at an astonishing 1 Gbps. That’s roughly a 100-fold increase in bandwidth from the maximum speeds offered by most of the larger internet service providers today.
Genachowski is not calling for that speed yet, though he did applaud the Google initiative. The FCC plan will nevertheless be ambitious.[The National Broadband Plan will be] a plan to ensure universal access and to turn potential access into actual broadband adoption. A plan to tear down barriers and improve access to jobs, education, and health care resources. A plan to promote private investment and competition, to lower costs and incentivize accelerated upgrades to our wired and wireless networks so that the next generation of incredible innovation happens right here at home. A plan that will be a strong complement to the Commerce and Agriculture Department’s near-term broadband grants.
To meet these challenges, the National Broadband Plan will set goals that are ambitious but achievable. It will describe a 2020 vision for U.S. broadband leadership grounded in two quintessentially American ideas — unsurpassed excellence and unrivaled opportunity…
To meet the imperatives of global competitiveness and enduring job creation, we must have broadband networks of such unsurpassed excellence that they will empower American entrepreneurs and innovators to build and expand businesses here in the United States.
Our plan will set goals for the U.S. to have the world’s largest market of very high-speed broadband users. A “100 Squared” initiative — 100 million households at 100 megabits per second — to unleash American ingenuity and ensure that businesses, large and small, are created here, move here, and stay here.
And we should stretch beyond 100 megabits. The U.S. should lead the world in ultra-high-speed broadband testbeds as fast, or faster, than anywhere in the world. In the global race to the top, this will help ensure that America has the infrastructure to host the boldest innovations that can be imagined. Google announced a one gigabit testbed initiative just a few days ago — and we need others to drive competition to invent the future.
Genachowski noted that some countries have adopted policies to make the Internet available to all citizens at a minimum of 1 to 2 megabits. “Our goal for universal service will be higher.”
Until now the federal government’s internet strategy was to largely “get out of the way” and leave the Internet’s growth to the private sector. Genachowski is signaling that the federal government intends to be a more active partner. Next week, the FCC will provide the results of a consumer survey it conducted on America’s attitudes toward broadband and views on how to improve access for all. I hope the numbers show that Americans understand the importance of the Internet and the Obama administration will feel it has a strong mandate to turbo-charge the process.