Wednesday, February 23, 2011

App-Rising: Who Will Fix America's Broken Broadband Policies?

Who Will Fix America's Broken Broadband Policies?

There can be no argument against the current deficiencies of America's broadband policies.

A third of Americans don't subscribe to broadband, and the rate of adoption is slowing.

Upwards of ten percent of American's can't subscribe, and there's no clear plan in place yet to provide them access to fix that.

Many Americans only have access to broadband that's too slow, too expensive, and not reliable enough.

Most of America is not yet realizing even a fraction of the potential that broadband has to offer.

And we ignore at our peril the reality that "broadband" in America means less bandwidth for more money than countries like South Korea, Sweden, and soon Australia.

Yet despite these undeniable truths about our shortcomings as a nation, our policymakers in DC continue to focus almost all attention on the issues of net neutrality and reclassification.

It was just two years ago that the Obama administration swept in a Democratic Congress with a wave of promising appointees that filled us with hope that a new day had dawned for broadband policy making. These were people who were supposed to get it. Who weren't afraid to take on big challenges.

Now two years later little progress has been made on directly addressing the issues listed above. At best the government's thrown $7 billion at the problem and made some tweaks around the edges of a system that's failing to deliver equal access to all Americans and to maximize the potential of this 21st century infrastructure.

Today we have a White House that says very little of substance about broadband. An FCC that's somehow lost the authority to regulate broadband and has been overly enamored with solving the relatively easy problem of freeing up more spectrum. And a Congress that's so polarized it can't move on anything, let alone something as potentially politically charged as making the many tough choices that need to be made in building a better framework for broadband policymaking.

And with a newly Republican House what's so so scary is that the odds of any progress being made on issues like net neutrality are nil, especially with each side of the issue ready to scream bloody murder if they have to give up an inch.

So what this all leads me to is, who's going to step up and lay out a path of sound policies to build a better broadband future for America?

The facts can't be ignored that we're not where we should be, so how do we get from here to there? Who's willing to recognize that to achieve long-term gains there may have to be some short-term losses and that we can't put aside entirely the possibility of making additional funding a national priority?

Now, I'm not totally without hope. NTIA is an agency in the White House that fancies itself an Internet policy shop. While it may not be diving in to try and solve all these broadband-related issues, they could play a helpful leadership role if they wanted to to at least get us pointed in the right direction.

I haven't given up on the FCC yet as the reality is that Genachowski still has three votes and the support of the White House, so if he wants to he could start taking up the charge and putting the pressure on Congress to act. But I'm not holding my breath that the FCC is capable of getting us going in the right direction as their actions have mostly been anything but visionary over the last two years.

And there's always the chance that President Obama wakes up to the significance of these issues relative to his desire to grow the economy as he leads this country deeper into the 21st century.

But where I'm most hopeful for the potential for change is in local, state, and maybe even some day Congressional leaders stepping up and realizing that they need to make broadband a priority, not just because it's what the country needs but also because it's what will help them get reelected.

What I'm saying is I think the only way to truly change the system is by engaging the people of this great nation, finding ways to bring those who are already interested in broadband together to learn from each other and to find ways to leverage that energy to teach those who are not yet connected. By empowering more users we create more educated voters who'll demand more from their leaders.

We also need to be supporting our digital innovators to help them find new solutions to old problems through the use of broadband-powered apps, services, and technologies. Because these are the future captains of industry who policymakers will ultimately need to be supporting the growth of to enable them to continue creating more jobs.

By doing these things those of us who are out there building networks of fiber, computers, and communities can overcome the follies of our "representatives" and their appointees in DC set this nation back on track to stay a global leader.

I didn't start this post intending for it to become a rallying cry for those who believe as I do in the power of fiber to positively impact every aspect of our lives and communities, but it's the only place I could find with certainty the kind of energy that's needed to fix what's wrong with our country.

Who will fix America's broken broadband policies? We will.

It won't be fast, and it won't be easy, but we will endure, innovate, and prosper in our broadband-powered future, and in so doing shape policies from the bottom up.

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