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January 4, 2010 9:23 PM

Does America Want The World's Best Wireline Broadband?

Recently I had a chance to watch a December C-SPAN interview with Blair Levin, the man charged with writing America's national broadband plan.

In it he spends a lot of time talking about the progress America's broadband ecosystem is making on its own without any additional government intervention. For example, he cites how 90% of Americans should have access to at least one provider offering broadband at 10Mbps or above through market-driven means alone.

When asked if he supports Rep. Boucher's suggestion of setting goals for our national broadband plan of 50Mbps down and 20Mbps up (actual vs. advertised), he waffles, suggesting that it's a "worthy goal" but refusing to support it outright, and questioning if focusing on actual speeds puts it even more out of reach.

And that was basically the end of the story when it came to the possibility that the national broadband plan might attempt to set aspirational bandwidth goals.

Yet then at the end of the interview Blair goes out of his way to say that he thinks it's "really important to try and be the world's best mobile broadband country."

It's hard not to read between the lines and interpret this as him basically saying that he doesn't think it's important that America be the world's best wireline broadband country, or at least that it's not as important as America committing to taking on the challenge of becoming a leader in wireless connectivity.

While I'm all for becoming a global leader in wireless broadband, I'm more than a little troubled that even the possibility of striving for the greatest wireline broadband is being ignored, brushed aside by the belief that the market alone will deliver the speeds needed to keep America competitive.

Is private industry investing a lot of money to bring higher speed connectivity to Americans? Absolutely. But is that investment enough to make us a global leader in wireline broadband? Not at all.

While we're having trouble agreeing on five-year goals of 50 or 100Mbps, South Korea's working on getting 1Gbps to 80% of its citizens by 2012. This means that by 2012, South Korean users will have twenty to a hundred times more capacity available to them than Americans.

While we're debating whether our goals should be 2Mbps or 4Mbps, Australia's putting a plan together that sets the goal of wiring 90% of its population with 100Mbps.

What we need to realize is that if the US government fails to follow suit and set more aspirational goals then we will never have the world's best wireline broadband.

Are we OK with that? Do we want to be the best, or is average acceptable if it's easier? Are we satisfied with America's best hope being a top twenty finish when it comes to the most important infrastructure of the 21st century?

Because so far it looks like the FCC is. Their vision for a national broadband plan as revealed to date seems to indicate that they think America doesn't want to be the best, that we don't even want to try and compete, that we're satisfied with networks that are good enough when the rest of the world is building for greatness.

Well I for one am not OK with any of this. I understand that America has some disadvantages in its size, relative density, and the need to respect the dynamics of the current marketplace. And it's always hard to talk about problems like broadband that require expensive solutions, especially when in the midst of a financial crisis like the one we're in.

But I think it's a mistake to allow our desire for pragmatism to limit the potential of what we need to be accomplishing. I can not accept the notion that America is willing to permanently relegate itself to middle-of-the-pack status when it comes the availability and affordability of bandwidth.

Because that's exactly what we're going to do if we refuse to set big goals for our wireline broadband infrastructure.

Does America want the world's best wireline broadband? I say we do. Do you?

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