Might as well get this over with now. The FCC has announced its National Broadband Plan, which describes where the agency would like to see the U.S. in a few years’ time vis-à-vis broadband and connectedness. It’s sorta like the UK’s Digital Britain report, published last year. The big thing is this: it’s in America’s best interest to turn itself into a first-world nation again, and the best way to do that is to develop its Internet infrastructure a wee bit more. That’s the gist of it: better, faster Internet access for many more people.
The FCC’s goal is to have, by 2020, 100 million homes (out of a projected 130 million) wired with 100 mbps broadband. The agency has said that broadband represents the country’s “greatest infrastructure challenge.” It’s not bridges and subway tunnels anymore—though we could sure use those, too—it’s about making sure you’re able to use the Internet easily and effectively. The idea is to make the Internet the country’s primary means of communication.
The executive summary, a quick synopsis of the otherwise gigantic report, says that broadband “is a foundation for economic growth, job creation, global competitiveness and a better way of life. It is changing how we educate children, deliver healthcare, manage energy, ensure public safety, engage government, and access, organise and disseminate knowledge.” All true. Think of your typical day: how many times do you use the Internet? (And think of those days when, for whatever reason, your Internet connection is down—freak out!) You wake up and you read the news; you check your bank account to make sure you’re not being charged weird fees for no reason; you look to see if your kid’s school is closed because of the snow; you check the weather; you read your work and personal e-mail; you check your Facebook and wish your brother-in-law a happy birthday (even if you don’t mean it); you tweet to the world that “today feels like a good day, gonna be productive”; you download the new Jimi Hendrix album from iTunes and stick it on your iPhone; and you order a Michio Kaku book from Amazon.
It’s broadband, it’s the Internet! It’s the future!
Now, it’s one thing for the FCC to say, “This is what we’d like to see,” but it’s another thing for that to actually happen. The U.S. doesn’t have the best Internet infrastructure out there—yes, we’re not the best at something, don’t cry—and that could be for a number of reasons. One, the U.S. is pretty big. The best wired countries—the Netherlands, South Korea, Norway, places like that—aren’t very large to begin with, and they’re more urban. That is, the majority of the population lives in cities, unlike here in the U.S. where suburbs and exurbs dominate. There’s a reason why, having lived in and around New York my entire life, I go to other places in the country and think, “Man, this is what the rest of America looks like? This is weird.” Not bad, just different. New York might as well be Jupiter compared to Texas. Anyhow, cities are far easier to wire for broadband than Kansas. It’s often not worth the local Internet Service Provider’s time (and money!) to wire you and your neighbor’s house on Smith Street.
But that’s why we need to think of broadband as infrastructure and not some silly little thing. Did we depend on private companies to construct the Inter-state Highway System? Why should broadband be any different?
Will taxes go up to pay for this? I don’t know. I do know that I’d rather see tax dollars go to an improved broadband infrastructure rather than, say, bridges to nowhere or ridiculous corn subsidies. (I just saw Food, Inc. and I’m all worked up.)
Let the record show that I already have 100 mbps broadband (well, 101 mbps!) and it’s really neat.
I, for one, would like to see the U.S. embrace broadband rather than see it fight tooth and nail against progress—big government this, big government that. That’s such a tired argument.