Stimulating Broadband in California and the United States

Back in the Internet dark ages, around December 2007, the State of California released a report entitled “The State of Connectivity – Building Innovation through Broadband.” This was in response to public concern that both California and the United States continued to fall further behind other economic competitors, in particular South Korea, and Singapore.

The report also outlined a new state task force (California Broadband Task Force/CBTF) with the objective “to remove barriers to broadband access, identify opportunities for increased broadband adoption, and enable the creation and deployment of new advanced communication technologies.” The governor also requested that the CBTF “pay particular attention to how broadband can be used to substantially benefit educational institutions, healthcare institutions, community-based organizations, and governmental institutions.”

telecom-sunriseTask Force members were selected from a variety of disciplines and industries, including Cable TV (Cox Communications), broadband hardware (Cisco Systems), academia (USC, Humboldt State), government (Cities of Mountain View and San Francisco, state assembly), and telecom carriers (AT&T, Verizon, Hughes). While I might find personal apprehension having so many utilities telecom companies as part of the conversation (AT&T, Verizon, Cox), the members do represent a good mix of professionals who can appreciate the need for broadband.

So, we can have a level of confidence the State of California recognizes the need to aggressively develop broadband for all persons desiring access to broadband within the state. The CBTF was given some interesting tools to assist in developing their appreciation for the needs of Californians. A listing of unserved communities is very long, although we must understand California is a very large state, with many small and rural communities.

However the “unserved” listing does have some surprises. You will be shocked to see how many locations within LA County, Orange County, San Diego County, and Riverside County unserved by broadband Internet. This report was done in 2007, so we will acknowledge that many of these locations may have gained better access to broadband, however is it possible (according to the report) that parts of Rancho Palos Verdes (Portuguese Bend), Long Beach (Naples), and Huntington Harbour do/did not have adequate access to broadband Internet?

Some People Want to Live in a Quiet Place

Having lived in the countryside (near Baudette, Minnesota) at an earlier phase in life, I can say with experience that many people simply want to live away from others. They want to wake up in the morning to the sound of birds and tress rustling in the wind, and go to sleep with the sound of a timber wolf singing a lullaby at the moon. Broadband Internet is not a priority, and in fact presents interaction with others that is unwanted and misplaced. As a society and taxpayer we should really leave those people alone, and focus our funding and energy on those who want or need to live in the 21st century.

So, Baudette needs broadband, but my old cabin on the Lake of the Woods does not – unless I want it. Nor does a person living in a log cabin near the Telephone Flat Reservoir in Northern California.

To live in the 21st century we need to participate in a rapidly moving global marketplace and economy. Thus the California initiative is important, for without broadband tools we will not be competitive in education, business, or social skills (you cannot hide any longer, web 2.0 is here to stay). We need broadband communications and Internet access to both drive and stimulate:

  • Information technology and communications in business
  • Education
  • Emergency services and heath care
  • National defense (including Homeland Security, military, and disaster services)
  • Entertainment
  • Social interaction
  • Technical leadership to ensure California leads the nation and world in technology and research
  • Lots of other really good reasons

Where do we Stand in the US – Alone?

As you might expect, the US Government does have a broadband plan. In fact the plan is contained with the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. The project is managed as a joint effort by the national Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) and the US Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Office of Rural Development’s Rural Utility Services (RUS) program. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) initiated, and will continue to support the “Recovery Act Broadband Initiatives/RABI and Broadband Data Improvement Act/BDIA” project with NTIA/RUS.

Funding for RABI includes $7.2 billion from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. His money sis split between NTIA and RUS, with the ultimate objective “to accelerate broadband deployment in unserved, underserved, and rural areas and to strategic institutions that are likely to create jobs or provide significant public benefits.” Pretty similar to California’s objectives.

Other states are not sitting idly by while California tries to move ahead. Some other great projects in states like New York have similar objectives, and are aggressively moving those objectives ahead. Their battle cry is very simple, and very powerful:

Broadband access supports our economy, attracts businesses, and enables New Yorkers to be globally competitive. It improves the quality of life for New Yorkers through better communication and learning. Strategic oversight of the broadband initiative is provided by the Broadband Development and Deployment Council per Executive Order 22.

Arizona believesreliable, affordable access to high-capacity telecommunications infrastructure has become as essential as water, sewer, transportation and electricity service in creating healthy and successful communities in the 21st century. This is true for all communities, not just the urban or affluent. Access to these services is not just a desire but an increasing necessity for rural Arizona communities in the 21st century.”

It is in each state’s interest to develop an aggressive broadband initiative, as the BDIA now offers the “Broadband Data and Development Grant Program” to help individual states develop and better understand their broadband projects. The State Broadband Data and Development Grant Program is a merit-based matching grant program providing around $240 million to assist states developing state-wide broadband maps, used to develop national broadband maps for the NTIA required by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. Basically free money for states to use in developing strategies for broadband deployment.

The Global Initiative

Broadband penetration around the world shows the US is not in a very strong position compared to some of our competitive nations. In June Strategy Analytics (a Boston research company) released a study showing broadband penetration to homes by country. A couple highlights include:

  • South Korea – 95% broadband penetration to the home
  • Singapore – 88%
  • Netherlands – 85%
  • Denmark – 82%
  • Taiwan – 81%
  • Hong Kong – 81%
  • — Canada – 76% (ranked 9th in the world)
  • — Australia – 72% (ranked 11th in the world)
  • — Japan – 64% (ranked 16th in the world)
  • — United States – 60% (ranked 20th in the world)
  • — Indonesia – 1%

This study does not take into account geography or the size of a country, and we do understand countries such as the US, Canada, Russia, and China have special problems in deploying broadband due to their large size and numerous rural locations.

There are many international projects either driving or researching the need for broadband access in both developed and developing countries. The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the International Telecommunications Union, Organization for Economic Development and Cooperation (OECD), and everybody else down to US AID and World Vision are all trying to bring better Internet access to all world citizens.

The Information Technology and Innovation Foundation recently released a report showing the conflicts, cooperation, challenges, and opportunities of US and international broadband access. The report provides through leadership on broadband topics including:

  • Identifying factors that have spurred broadband performance in other nations
  • Presenting key findings that government and the technology industry must recognize if we are to find the right course for the United States
  • Propose key policy recommendations that will drive greater broadband performance

What we can do

Understand the impact of broadband internet and communications access has today, and will have in the future. Understand the impact our children and future generations will encounter if we do not give them the intellectual and information tools they need to develop lifelong tacit skills in technology and communications. Carefully compare and weigh potential results if we do not prioritize development of both California communications, and our leadership role in the global tech and economic marketplace.

Sent via email from my laptop computer on the beach in Long Beach, California

John Savageau

About johnsavageau
Another telecom junkie who has been bouncing around the international communications community for most of the past 35 years.

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