Thursday, November 09, 2006

Internet Disconnect 

Another result of the American Vote 2006?

Former FCC Commissioner Gloria Tristani, now President of the Benton
Foundation, forwards an article written by FCC Commissioner Michael
Copps for today's Washington Post.


Washington Post-11/08/07

Internet Disconnect

By Michael J. Copps
Wednesday, November 8, 2006; A27

America's record in expanding broadband communication is so poor that it
should be viewed as an outrage by every consumer and businessperson in
the country. Too few of us have broadband connections, and those who do
pay too much for service that is too slow. It's hurting our economy, and
things are only going to get worse if we don't do something about it.

The United States is 15th in the world in broadband penetration,
according to the International Telecommunication Union (ITU). When the
ITU measured a broader "digital opportunity" index (considering price
and other factors) we were 21st -- right after Estonia. Asian and
European customers get home connections of 25 to 100 megabits per second
(fast enough to stream high-definition video). Here, we pay almost twice
as much for connections that are one-twentieth the speed.

How have we fallen so far behind? Through lack of competition. As the
Congressional Research Service puts it, U.S. consumers face a "cable and
telephone broadband duopoly." And that's more like a best-case scenario:
Many households are hostage to a single broadband provider, and nearly
one-tenth have no broadband provider at all.

For businesses, it's just as bad. The telecom merger spree has left many
office buildings with a single provider -- leading to annual estimated
overcharges of $8 billion. Our broadband infrastructure should be a
reason companies want to do business in the United States, not just
another reason to go offshore.

The stakes for our economy could not be higher. Our broadband failure
places a ceiling over the productivity of far too much of the country.
Should we expect small-town businesses to enter the digital economy, and
students to enter the digital classroom, via a dial-up connection? The
Internet can bring life-changing opportunities to those who don't live
in large cities, but only if it is available and affordable.

Even in cities and suburbs, the fact that broadband is too slow, too
expensive and too poorly subscribed is a significant drag on our
economy. Some experts estimate that universal broadband adoption would
add $500 billion to the U.S. economy and create 1.2 million jobs.

Future generations will ultimately pay for our missteps. Albert Einstein
reportedly quipped that compound interest is the most powerful force in
the universe. Investment in infrastructure is how a nation harnesses
this awesome multiplier. Consider that 80 percent of the growth in
fiber-to-the-home (super-high-speed) subscribers last year was not in
the United States but in Japan. One does not need Einstein's grasp of
mathematics to understand that we cannot keep pace on our current

I don't claim to have all the answers. But there are concrete steps
government must take now to reverse our slide into communications

To begin with, the Federal Communications Commission -- of which I am a
member -- must face up to the problem. Today the agency's reports seem
designed mostly to obscure the fact that we are falling behind the rest
of the world. The FCC still defines broadband as 200 kilobits per
second, assumes that if one person in a Zip code area has access to
broadband then everyone does and fails to gather any data on pricing.

The FCC needs to start working to lower prices and introduce
competition. We must start meeting our legislative mandate to get
advanced telecommunications out to all Americans at reasonable prices;
make new licensed and unlicensed spectrum available; authorize "smart
radios" that use spectrum more efficiently; and do a better job of
encouraging "third pipe" technologies such as wireless and broadband
over power lines. And we should recommend steps to Congress to ensure
the FCC's ability to implement long-term solutions.

We need a broadband strategy for America. Other industrialized countries
have developed national broadband strategies. In the United States we
have a campaign promise of universal broadband access by 2007, but no
strategy for getting there. With less than two months to go, we aren't
even within shouting distance.

The solution to our broadband crisis must ultimately involve
public-private initiatives like those that built the railroad, highway
and telephone systems. Combined with an overhaul of our universal
service system to make sure it is focusing on the needs of broadband,
this represents our best chance at recapturing our leadership position.

It seems plain enough that our present policies aren't working.
Inattention and muddling through may be the path of least resistance,
but they should not and must not represent our national policy on this
critical issue.

The writer is a Democratic member of the Federal Communications

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