The organization I work for in Washington is part of a broader crew of do-gooders called the Media & Democracy Coalition. Lately, members of this umbrella group have been calling on the incoming administration to adopt a national strategy for broadband service.
Our pals at Free Press have a 25-page report [PDF] on the subject, which I read a while ago but was recently reminded of. Anyway, I bring it up because I’m always bitching about Comcast, and I figured it might be worthwhile for Contrarian readers to have some context about our country’s sorry-ass internet situation. Here’s a choice excerpt from the FP doc:
While U.S. consumers have at best two choices for a wired broadband connection, in European countries consumers have many choices — sometimes dozens — among providers on just a single platform.
All of the excuses offered to explain away America’s performance on the international broadband stage cannot hide the reality that many countries continue to deploy and adopt broadband at a higher level than the United States. Because of sound public policy, the citizens in these countries actually enjoy a competitive broadband market. They pay far less for far better and faster service, while American consumers are trapped in a duopoly marketplace with no relief in sight.
We have two fundamental problems in our broadband market — availability and competition. These are real issues where American policymakers can make a difference by helping to foster a truly competitive marketplace like that found in many European and Asian nations.
We enjoy myriad services and resources that we don’t pay for each and every time we use them. Yet each of these key facets of contemporary society was part of a new social contract, often adopted only after years of battle and turmoil to overcome a prior status quo (from private fire and educational services to for-fee libraries and parks). Eventually, however, new models are seen to provide such an enormous benefit to the entire population that we’re willing to invest in ideas that lift all boats. We realize that, as a society, each of us is better off when certain basic services are freely available to all. . .
. . .a new social contract that includes connectivity for all is not a particularly expensive endeavor – free broadband for everyone for life would cost a tiny fraction of the cost of the Wall Street bail-out and far less than the expense of one year of our war in Iraq.
Some of our readers might think this smacks of socialism, but they should keep in mind that, without nudging from the government, many Americans would still be using candles. (And not just for weird rituals or sexytimes.)
Meinrath’s article fits into the general call for spectrum reform, which would take advantage of new technologies to apportion parts of the public airwaves to provide low-cost broadband to hard-to-service areas. (You can learn more about how these so-called “white spaces” fit into the music world here.)
Just thought some of you might be interested to know what the smart kids are up to. Oh, and rumor has it America might get its first Chief Technology Officer soon. . .