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Upgrading broadband in U.S.

Upgrading broadband in U.S.

The following editorial appeared in the San Jose Mercury News on Thursday:
As the United States competes in the global economy, affordable high-speed Internet access is more vital than a telephone line - and far less available. It's essential for the nation to come up with an effective strategy in 2007 to ensure that every American can get broadband service by the end of the decade.
The Internet opens the world - and equalizes it - like no other tool ever invented. Children can tap into vast libraries of information and great teachers, no matter how isolated their homes or how bad their schools. Consumers can find the latest goods for the lowest possible prices, no matter where they live, and download a variety of entertainment with the click of a button. Individuals can bond with friends, family and even strangers, thanks to the Internet's many communications channels: voice, e-mail, instant message, photo, video, Web page, blog. Businesses, whatever their niche, can locate anywhere and connect with customers worldwide.
In short, everything is better with broadband. Yet, the United States ranks 12th in the world for broadband penetration, lagging behind such nations as Denmark, South Korea and the United Kingdom, according to the international Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.
At the end of 2005, just 27 million U.S. homes and businesses had Internet lines with speeds of at least 2.5 megabits per second, according to federal regulators. Rural and low-income households were far less likely to have a fast line than wealthier and urban ones.
Moreover, typical U.S. speeds, which are barely enough to handle postcard-size streaming video clips, are nothing compared to the 100-megabit lines that Japanese and South Korean users can get for less than US$35 a month.
During the dot-com boom, Silicon Valley proclaimed that broadband would end the digital divide. In his 2004 campaign, President Bush proclaimed, "We ought to have universal, affordable access to broadband technology by the year 2007." Earlier this year, incoming House Speaker Nancy Pelosi promised that House Democrats would deliver universal broadband within five years.
Speed and reach
Enough talk. Let's roll. The faster, the better. We need a cohesive national strategy for achieving universal broadband - an effort that could cost tens of billions of dollars to fully achieve.
We need to define minimum acceptable speeds. We need aggressive annual targets for rolling out access. We need to open up more airwaves for Internet use, which will give more people mobile access and provide much-needed competition to the cable and phone companies. We need to find a funding mechanism to subsidize access in sparsely populated areas, where private companies don't have the financial incentive to do it themselves.
Silicon Valley business leaders should be leading the charge on this issue. Not only is universal broadband good for society, it's good for the technology business. Intel will sell more chips, Hewlett-Packard more computers, Cisco Systems more routers, Google more ads. Telephone and cable companies see huge profits in delivering TV, Internet and phone service over fast land lines.
In some communities, telecom providers are teaming up with local governments to offer free or cheap wireless Internet service, another way to expand access.
These efforts are a good start, but making broadband truly universal will also take leadership - and money - from the federal government.
To help pay for Internet service in rural areas, the U.S. should redeploy the Universal Service Fund, which collects more than US$7 billion annually from phone users to subsidize telephone access throughout the country. A Democrat-proposed tax credit for rural service providers is also worth considering.
Looking a bit further ahead, the government should spur growth and competition in wireless broadband by auctioning off analog television frequencies that won't be needed when TV broadcasters go to full digital transmission in 2009. Some of the auction proceeds could be used to subsidize universal broadband service for rural and low-income customers, if needed.
Extending high-speed Internet service to everyone isn't a luxury - it's vital to our economic competitiveness and our lives.


Updated : 2021-05-18 21:50 GMT+08:00