With the National Broadband Plan announced by the FCC this week, U.S. lawmakers now have an opportunity to do something that will truly and positively impact the lives and well-being of every American for decades to come.
The fact is that broadband will help lead the way in new and emerging industries and create millions of jobs for generations of American workers. However, as a recent FCC survey shows, nearly 100 million Americans do not have broadband at home today. As society increasingly moves online, the costs of digital exclusion become untenable. The United States cannot be viewed as an innovation and technology leader if it cannot develop and implement a long-term strategy to ensure every citizen has access to high-speed Internet services.
This is why the recently-unveiled FCC broadband plan is a much needed kick-off to what we hope will be an ongoing process to implement a national broadband policy. While there will always be a rush to focus on short-term priorities and differences among industry sectors, it's critical policymakers and business leaders embrace a long-term vision and roadmap for a national roll out of faster, better, more accessible Internet infrastructure that will help bring a broadband connection to every American home.
Included within this long-term framework and conversation must be the following:
- Identification of new spectrum (range of frequencies) for wireless broadband, so that the United States can lead the world in mobile innovation and technology;
- Revision of outdated universal broadcast service, inter-carrier compensation, and rights of way regulations to ensure affordable access to broadband;
- Promotion of a deregulatory framework for web-delivered, Internet protocol (IP) enabled products, services and content to ensure that consumers will have access to evolving generations of the latest products, services, and content;
- Embracing the proposed "100 Squared" initiative that will connect faster 100 megabit per second wireline service to 100 million households by the year 2020, as well as an interim goal of passing 80 percent of American households by 2015 with a competitive wireline broadband capability of at least 50 megabits per second speed delivered to consumers on a reliable basis;
- Eliminating the barriers to needed federal infrastructure improvements that will enable a network that allows all first-responders to communicate in times of crisis, a Smart Grid that increases our energy independence, lower health care costs through telemedicine, remote monitoring, and electronic health records, and improved educational outcomes; and
- Advancing accessibility and security efforts to expand the range of consumers who enjoy the benefits of broadband.
Stated simply, building a stronger Internet is vital to maintain America's competitive edge in the world. A recent report from Harvard University's Berkman Center for Internet and Society shows that Americans are less likely to have high-speed home internet connections than residents of countries like Japan, South Korea, and the United Kingdom. Average Internet speeds in the United States, Harvard researchers also found, lag behind those in places like Switzerland, Denmark, and Germany. Even some countries that currently make less use of the Internet than the U.S.--Australia for example--have also recently announced and financed plans to create new networks far faster than anything that exists in the United States.
Making such an investment here would create jobs. Already, the Internet directly supports 1.2 million American jobs, more than auto manufacturing or farming. The right investments could easily double this count and would thus cut America's still-too-high unemployment rate about 15 percent. Like the transcontinental railroad that Americans built in the 19th century and the Interstate Highway System built during the 20th century, the Internet is key to facilitating the transportation of goods, services, and information that undergird just about every American business activity. Improving the Internet will benefit virtually every type of business and, most likely, will boost industries ranging from tourism to manufacturing.
The bottom line is that many of the biggest advantages of a better, faster, more pervasive Internet, in short, are currently nothing more than an idea and the necessary capital to make it happen. This means we can't stop at commending the FCC's plan -- we need to start putting the plan in action.
Nobody will ever agree with a proposal in its entirely. However, as we celebrate the 25th anniversary of the .com this week, government and leaders in the private sector need to work together, focus on the long-term and roll out broadband Internet to every American.
It's clear we've already waited far too long.