Last week, I blogged (America stands at broadband crossroads) about market and policy failures that are holding the United States back from other nations when it comes to broadband (high speed) Internet access. I suggested that these failures might spawn a massive federal government program similar to the interstate highway construction project in the 1950s to rapidly bring the nation’s telecommunications infrastructure up to where it should be for America’s present and future needs and economic competitiveness.
Apparently I’m not the only one thinking along these lines. A report issued today by The Free Press, the Consumer Federation of America and Consumers Union, Broadband Reality Check II, concludes the U.S. now faces a broadband availability crisis in which a third of the nation’s households remain stuck with dial up access. Here are some excerpts:
It may be time for the government to think boldly and build a true “information superhighway” by deploying “dark fiber” to American communities nationwide — rural and urban, rich and poor alike. With the pipes built, private companies would then be free to “light” the fiber and provide broadband and other services. Competitive companies could pay the government a nominal rental fee for use of the dark fiber lines.
Fiber-to-the-home or fiber-wireless hybrid networks would develop in competitive markets where multiple service providers compete on the basis of quality of service, rather than stifling competition through gatekeeper control over infrastructure.
A project on this scale wouldn’t be cheap, with some estimates as high as $1,000 per home, $115 billion to wire the entire nation. But the cost of not taking this path could be even higher. Some economists estimate the social surplus of a universally wired broadband nation at $350 billion. Regardless of the path U.S. policymakers chooses, it is imperative that we guide the market toward some big ideas for our broadband future. Absent that vision, we will continue to fall behind.
The report places blame squarely on the Federal Communications Commission, charging the FCC “has failed to adequately oversee the timely deployment of affordable broadband to every American, as they were mandated to do by the 1996 Telecommunications Act.” Consequently, Congress as well as state and local entities need to step up and solve this problem, it concludes.