President Bush has announced a national goal of ubiquitous broadband access in the United States.46 The committee urges the Administration and Congress to take the necessary steps to meet that goal. Many of the barriers to more rapid broadband penetration lie in the area of telecommunications regulation and spectrum policy, where in some cases entrenched industry interests are clashing to preserve and extend the advantages offered under policies promulgated in the past.47
Telecommunication infrastructure will be crucial to the competitiveness of any country in the 21st century. It is the medium by which data are accessed, consultations take place, and decisions are transmitted. One has only to look at the vast amounts of information transmitted by the financial community, the use of information in the retail market (for example, WalMart, the largest retailer in the world, owes much of its competitiveness to its information-technology infrastructure for tracking sales, inventory, and consumer purchasing trends in real time), and the growth of online sales in almost every business segment of the economy.
As the Internet becomes more dominant in communication, information access, commerce, education, and entertainment, the key infrastructural factor will be broadband access. The potential effects on society and individuals of distance learning, telemedicine, Internet entertainment, and delivery of government services demonstrates how great the impact of broadband on the competitiveness of any country could be. The United States was an early leader in Internet broadband penetration but recently has fallen out of the top 10 countries in per capita broadband access. In fact, vast rural regions of the United States are devoid of affordable bidirectional broadband capability. Just as the United States was a leader in providing ubiquitous telecommunication capability to its citizens in the 20th century and reaped the benefits of voice-connectivity technology, it should be a leader in facilitating broadband Internet connectivity to its citizens in the 21st century. That infrastructure not only will support existing commerce but will facilitate the growth of new industries.
Broadband access clearly is not a “big-company issue;” large companies can generally afford the technology, and many have already put it in place in order to compete. Broadband is an important issue for ordinary citizens (providing, for example, the ability to telecommute on a national and international scale) as well as small and medium-sized businesses. As many of us have found when calling a company to help fix our computer, making an airline reservation, or getting guidance on how to help a sick child in the middle of the night, the person we call may be virtually any-