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Why do we need a national broadband policy?

May 4, 2005 at 12:00 pm PST

I’m going to have to take a bit of the umbrage with a recent column by Johna Till Johnson in Network World. You can read the article by clicking here or by copying this URL: The tone of the title of her column says it all, “Why do we need a national broadband policy?”

In supporting her opinion that we don’t need a national broadband policy, she states, “(a)s for TechNet’s argument that we’re holding back the economy: With all due respect to the nice folks in San Jose, what’s good for Cisco isn’t necessarily good for America.” She goes on to say, “sure lots of people want broadband access (who can't get it)…(b)ut that in and of itself isn’t a reason to subsidize it.” Methinks that she hasn’t thoroughly read anything TechNet or Cisco have said on broadband. Neither are calling for subsidization. Cisco has consistently said that the MARKET will take care of the vast majority of broadband deployment…and in some instances, companies might need little nudges to serve rural and underserved areas. That’s it.

Further, to think that Cisco is the one company that is going to benefit from the full deployment of “true” broadband is ridiculous. There are hundreds of companies that benefit from the deployment of broadband, too many to name and certainly not worth the effort. Further, on her statement “what’s good for Cisco is not necessarily good for America” -- in this case, she’s just plain wrong. Sure, Cisco sells the boxes and software that make connections between computers -- the dial-tone for broadband, if you will -- and, yes, there will be some business benefit as more and more people move to broadband. However, with broadband comes better access to educational tools, better healthcare tools, better management tools -- in a word, more productivity. Now, I’m not an economist, but last time I looked the government tracks productivity numbers fairly closely as an economic barometer. So, I guess I’m saying that the formula that debunks her logic would look something like “Cisco (and a lot of other companies and providers) = Broadband = Increased Productivity = Good for America.” I’m not sure what her formula looks like.

We need a national broadband policy because we need to send the message to suppliers and markets that broadband IS important to our country. Markets need certainty in order for investments to be made. A national broadband policy goes a long way to providing that certainty. To measure the US penetration by saying that broadband is 256K while other countries are in the 10 to 100mbps is just silly. Other countries have invested directly in broadband because they see it as a way to level the playing field for the 21st century…the US has a bit of a buffer because our economy is twice the size of the next largest economy, but regions and countries will use broadband to catch up and they know this. If we don’t have a policy to get affordable, true broadband deployed we could be leapfrogged by others. In the recent ITU report, we fell from 13th to 16th in the world in broadband penetration. Broadband is the platform that all new applications and services will run over in the future…voice…video…data…stuff you haven’t thought of. If other regions have better infrastructure in the future, they’re going to have better education, better healthcare, bigger productivity, etc. We have to have broadband to keep our economic edge and remain competitive in this new century.

I could go on, but I have to go take my buddy, Jim, to pick up his car from the shop. Let me know your thoughts on the issue of a national broadband plan. You can also let Johna Till Johnson know what you think of her thoughts -- the commentary states that Johnson is president and chief research officer at Nemertes Research, an independent technology research firm. Reach her at

High Tech DTV Coalition: Hard Deadline Key to Free Air Waves for Broadband, Public Safety

April 28, 2005 at 12:00 pm PST

Today, at a press conference in DC the High Tech DTV Coalition was announced with the hopes of setting a hard date for the transition to digital television (DTV) so that the extra spectrum broadcasters are now using can be used for public safety and wireless broadband access in rural and underserved areas.

Cisco is a member of the coalition along with Alcatel, Aloha Partners, AT&T, Dell, IBM, Intel, Microsoft, Qualcomm, Texas Instruments, T-Mobile, Information Technology Industry Council, National Association of Manufacturers, Business Software Alliance, the Semiconductor Industry Association, the National Telecommunications Cooperative Association and the Rural Telecommunications Group.

You can read the full press release here.

The U.S. is now 16th in Broadband Penetration Worldwide

April 27, 2005 at 12:00 pm PST

A year ago today, on April 26, 2004, U.S. President George Bush called for broadband to all Americans by the year 2007 -- a noble goal that we are clearly struggling to meet. He said that policies should “bring broadband to every corner of our country by the year 2007 with competition shortly thereafter.” When he gave that speech one year ago today, the US was ranked 13th in the world in broadband per 100 inhabitants. Today, in a report from the ITU (International Telecommunications Union -- the new rankings came out. We are now ranked 16th in the world. The ITU website was having problems today, but you should be able to access their report in time here. You can read a brief news summary of the report here.

So, what are we to make of our new ranking? In the days to come, it will be said that we are much more populous and geographically diverse than those countries that are ranked ahead of us. To this, I would say that we were just as populous (nearly so) and geographically diverse five years ago when these rankings started coming out and we were ranked 4th in the world. The fact of the matter is that we STILL don’t have a plan. Competition in many markets is still sparse, so prices for broadband are high. Cable and telephone companies are investing in infrastructure (generally) where they can make money, but because there is no incentive for them to buildout (i.e. somethat that a national broadband plan might provide) they make do with what they have.

One way to help us not fall further in the rankings in 2007 (the so-stated goal for broadband to EVERYONE!! in the US) is to get some of that yummy broadcaster spectrum back…at some point…soon. The transition to digital television (DTV) started nearly a decade ago and during that time broadcasters were given an additional channel of spectrum to broadcast a digital channel -- no small feat in terms of investment as well as technology. The idea was for them to simulcast an analog AND digital channel during the transition period and then give back the analog channel after the transition reached a date certain or a certain digital penetration rate was reached (let's not discuss the fact that the majority of people get their television via cable and satellite -- there are still a great deal of people who rely on free, over-the-air television).

So, as that date certain approaches, broadcasters say that the DTV penetration rate is not where it should be and that consumers should be given more time to transition to DTV so that they won't lose their analog television signals. They have a good argument, but in order for the U.S. to be globally competitive and for citizens, all citizens, to have access to a robust choice of broadband, we need to get that analog spectrum back from the broadcasters in a timely manner. There is growing support for this approach in the halls of the U.S. Congress and an announcement will be made tomorrow by a number of companies and associations along the lines of getting a date certain for the analog give-back. (NOTE TO READERS: I used to work for the National Association of Broadcasters so I have been on both sides of this current discussion.)

So, in sum, we’re #16 in the world in broadband penetration. We still don’t have a national broadband plan to address our continual fall in the rankings. Broadcasters have spectrum that will help us raise our rankings. We need a date certain for that spectrum to be given back to the American people, so we can get back on the world broadband wagon.

CNET Interview with Cisco CEO John Chambers

April 22, 2005 at 12:00 pm PST

Interesting interview with our CEO on growth, on his tenure, on transition plans, on acquistions, on stock options and more. I encourage you to check it out…candid interview. Read it here or by copying and pasting this URL:

Foreign Affairs Magazine on Broadband: “Down to the Wire” by Thomas Bleha

April 20, 2005 at 12:00 pm PST

I thought those of you interested in broadband deployment worldwide would be interested in this article that appears in the May/June issue of Foreign Affairs magazine.

The summary of the article states: “Once a leader in Internet innovation, the United States has fallen far behind Japan and other Asian states in deploying broadband and the latest mobile-phone technology. This lag will cost it dearly. By outdoing the United States, Japan and its neighbors are positioning themselves to be the first states to reap the benefits of the broadband era: economic growth, increased productivity, and a better quality of life.”

Couldn’t have said it better myself. : )

You can read the full article by clicking here or cutting and pasting this URL: