March 26, 2010, 9:07 AM — The FCC vision for the future of communications in the United States, and its proposals for getting from where we are to where we need to be are imperative to maintaining a level playing field for business in America. The limited bandwidth is running out, and the digital divide continues to grow, and businesses on the wrong side of that divide will find it very hard to keep up with the competition.
Imagine the Indy 500 race. As long as all of the drivers have vehicles capable of producing 650-plus horsepower and achieving speeds in excess of 220 miles per hour everything is fair and it comes down to the wit and skill of the driver. Now, give half of those drivers a factory-standard, street-legal Chevy Camaro and see how they fare.
Businesses located in major metropolitan areas may not even realize the growing problem exists. Major metropolitan areas not only have high-speed wired and wireless broadband available, but typically have access to multiple providers, and even multiple options--like cable mode, DSL, or satellite--to get it.
However, businesses located off the beaten path are at a disadvantage. Private sector interests are not willing to invest any significant money to build an infrastructure that reaches to rural America. The population is smaller and the return on investment is virtually impossible to achieve.
Case in point: while the major wired and wireless broadband providers are balking at FCC initiatives to drive expansion of 100mbps broadband access to 100 million American homes, Google is pursuing a pilot test to push the envelope and demonstrate 1 gbps broadband. There is a major gap between the status quo, the FCC vision, and what is really possible if the investment is made.
Is it a crisis, though? At a hearing in Washington DC today, Representative Joe Barton of Texas--the top Republican member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee--pointed out that 95 percent of Americans already have access to broadband, and that it was the private sector--not the federal government--that invested in that infrastructure.
There are multiple issues being addressed within the National Broadband Plan, though--only one of which is the aspect of expanding broadband access to more Americans. The other factors involved include ensuring that private sector broadband providers have an incentive to push the envelope and continue to invest in innovation rather than stagnating.