June 15, 2009 By Blake Harris
In this issue, we focus on broadband - the infrastructure of the 21st century. Under the $7.2 billion broadband stimulus plan, the FCC must develop a strategy to improve broadband coverage and present it to Congress in 2010. This is amid increasing calls from different organizations for a national broadband strategy that would return America to a leadership position for Internet deployment and access.
Clearly past U.S. approaches to broadband haven't met expectations. "The policy of relying on 'market forces' that the Bush administration claimed for seven years would propel broadband access is irresponsible and insufficient," noted Mark Lloyd, author of the Science Progress report, Ubiquity Requires Redundancy: The Case for Federal Investment in Broadband. "Without a robust broadband network connecting urban and rural America," he said, "the country is not only less competitive in the global economy, we will be ill-prepared to respond to national security threats and natural disasters."
In Lloyd's (and our) view, a national broadband infrastructure is analogous to the national interstate system spearheaded by President Dwight Eisenhower. That effort - the "National Defense Highway System" - built the network of roads connecting the country that promoted national unity and commerce, and supported defense by allowing reliable, rapid interstate transport of military equipment.
There are economic and homeland security benefits to a world-class broadband system, which is defined by two things intrinsic to any broadband strategy. One: access - the reach of affordable broadband into all urban and rural communities. And two: broadband speed - the bandwidth needed for the future, something that's easy to misjudge.
A 2009 study, The Need for Speed: The Importance of Next-Generation Broadband Networks, published by the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, points out, "There is no reason to believe that network transmission speeds of 5 Mbps will not seem every bit as antiquated to us in five to 10 years as 56 Kbps seems to us today."
Broadband is integral to reinventing America and its communities for the 21st century. Imagine our country tied together with dirt or gravel roads. We couldn't have become a great 20th-century nation with that infrastructure.
As we look toward the future, success will elude us as a nation, linked together with the broadband equivalent of "dirt roads." This is why any national broadband strategy must build not for a few short years, but for the coming decades.