Friday, July 18, 2008

U.S. at "critical juncture," in danger of becoming second class broadband state

Yet another organization is sounding the alarm over the pathetic state of U.S. broadband telecommunications infrastructure. This time it's the National Association of Telecommunications Officers & Advisors (NATOA), which today adopted and released formal Broadband Principles encouraging the immediate development of a national broadband strategy.

"Today, the United States is at a critical juncture," the organization states. "Economic and social development increasingly depend on advanced communications infrastructure. However, there is no strategy in place for widespread deployment of next-generation broadband networks. Our failure to take immediate action threatens to relegate our country to second-class status in the broadband age."

Forget about studies, broadband demand aggregation surveys and pretty maps of broadband black holes and other delaying tactics, well meaning or otherwise. The situation is so dire, NATOA asserts, it requires urgent action rather than contemplation: the immediate deployment of advanced broadband infrastructure -- preferably over open access fiber optic cable systems -- providing synchronous connections.

The NATOA's statement also shuns a search for magic bullets to speed broadband deployment. "Different methods may be preferable in different communities," it reads. "For example, networks may be financed by private investment, by government investment, by public-private partnerships, by tax incentives, or by other means. None of these approaches should be prohibited by law or burdened by special restrictions (such as laws that forbid cross-subsidy by governments but allow it for private entities)."

Aside from the need for immediate action, another theme strongly emerges from the NATOA's statement: that local government play a key role and the current model of that concentrates ownership of telecommunications infrastructure in the hands of just a few private owners is part of the problem.

That makes sense given that the U.S. broadband crisis is really a local crisis over the so-called last mile connection. Consider roads and highways to which the telecommunications system has often been compared. The big telecom players may own and operate the interstates and major highways. Local governments have traditionally had responsibilty for providing roads and streets and NATOA argues they should also play a critical role in upgrading the nation's inadequate broadband infrastructure.

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