mission and Congress at the national level1—as well as in trade associations, consumer advocacy and other public interest groups, and by civic organizations, telecommunications and Internet policy scholarship forums, and groups concerned with international economic development. That such a diversity of organizations share a common interest in broadband underscores how much the Internet has become accepted as important to the U.S. economy and society, a marked contrast to the early and mid-1990s when the federal Information Infrastructure Task Force worked hard to proselytize the Internet and related services.2 Various factions point to broadband as a compelling reason for shifts in telecommunications policy; these include proponents of both more and less government intervention. Understanding the nature of broadband and what is involved in getting it to more consumers is one of the major goals of this report.

Broadband, in the sense of high-capacity communications channels, is already present throughout much of the communications infrastructure. Fiber optic links with very large capacity are already commonplace within the networks of telecommunications carriers and are available for local access in many locations, albeit at high costs affordable by only larger businesses or organizations. The broadband challenge on most people’s minds today is how to make higher-capacity connections available on a more pervasive, affordable basis. In particular, how can one best extend high-speed connectivity to users in homes, small businesses and smaller offices of larger organizations, local governments, and so forth? Widespread use—marked by new patterns of information flow—not only would benefit the individuals connected, but also could lead to qualitative changes in how people interact with family, community, and the workplace, with potentially profound social and economic implications. Broadband is viewed by some as a double-edged sword: networking could promote economic development, yet electronic commerce also has the potential to displace local businesses. (Present and potential applications and impacts are considered in Chapter 3 in this report.) Extending the reach of broadband generally implies building on the existing communications infrastructure base, either incrementally or through significant investment in new infrastructure. It is an expensive


Broadband-related bills introduced in the 107th Congress include S. 1056 (Community Telecommunications Planning Act of 2001), H.R. 2139 (Rural America Broadband Deployment Act), H.R. 1542 (Internet Freedom and Broadband Deployment Act of 2001), H.R. 267 (Broadband Internet Access Act of 2001), S. 150 (Broadband Deployment Act of 2001), and S. 88 (Broadband Internet Access Act of 2001).


For the flavor of that period, see CSTB’s 1996 report The Unpredictable Certainty and its 1994 report Realizing the Information Future, National Academy Press, Washington, D.C.

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