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Broadband and the Global Networked Economy

November 16, 2010 - 2 Comments

Ongoing investment in essential telecommunications infrastructure matters to everyone, whether they know it or not. This fundamental assertion will be a reoccurring theme in my commentary. My belief is deep-rooted, and it goes back to the beginning of my work experience. As a young man, my first job in the telecom industry was at The Commercial Cable Company, a subsidiary of ITT Worldcom in London, England.

Back in the 1970s, I had the opportunity to join what was then a leading international record carrier, that was also an early pioneer of unique data services. I was schooled in the application of electronic teleprinters, private line services and store-and-forward message switching systems. I quickly learned about the socioeconomic benefits gained from deploying telecom facilities, while assigned to support the communication needs of numerous private and public institutions.

Our series of stories about the history of Telegraphy and undersea cables brought back fond memories and also reminded me why I am so passionate for this cause — helping to advance an awareness of the essential role that all telecommunication service providers have had throughout recent history.

Collectively, those of us that feel compelled to speak up, we must take time to celebrate both “where we’ve been” and the challenges and opportunities that are ahead of us in this ongoing journey of discovery. Here’s a topic that’s very meaningful to me.

Broadband: an Enabler of Renewed Growth and Prosperity

The following is an excerpt from the prepared remarks by Julius Genachowski, FCC Chairman, that were given at the NARUC Annual Meeting in Atlanta, GA on November 15, 2010.

“Broadband enables businesses to start and grow, and jobs to be created, anywhere in America, from the biggest urban city to the smallest rural town.

Broadband opens new markets, allowing businesses – of any size – to reach customers in the next neighborhood, the next city, the next state, and even overseas.

And broadband can connect businesses to tools in what’s increasingly called the “cloud.”  The cloud is simply networks of Internet-connected servers with extraordinary computing power.  It allows the smallest business to have cutting edge products and services that increase productivity and efficiency, reduce costs, and boost profits.

Broadband is vital economic infrastructure.  And much more.”

Similar sentiments were part of the John Chambers op-ed, back in March of this year, that was entitled “Why America Needs a National Broadband Plan.” Mr. Chambers said “Here is what we do know: We are only as strong as the systems and infrastructure we have. A world that used to be defined by who ruled the High Seas is now defined by who delivers the best network connections.”

Working Together on a Meaningful Shared Goal

Now, I understand that pleading with a large group of opinionated individuals to identify common-ground can be problematic — particularly when they’re being asked to disregard the divisive issues that keep them apart. Back in January of 2002, I shared a point of view entitled “Broadband Policy: Lessons Learned, U.S. Interstate Highway System,” where I attempted to demonstrate — via an example — that it can in fact be done.

Granted, I’m not the same young man that I introduced to you at the beginning of this story, but I can assure you I have not lost my faith in the spirit of adventure that enables us all to reach new heights. How do you reach lofty broadband goals? Follow the guidance of Wilbert Harrison.

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  1. Melissa, I’ve been following this topic for well over a decade, and I’ve identified several reasons why developed nations find themselves significantly behind the recognized global market leaders (South Korea, etc). Here’s a quick summary. 1) Lack of Worldliness: if you don’t know what constitutes the definition of a superior telecom infrastructure in other nations, nor the current broadband (per Mbps) pricing in the leading markets, then it’s easy to be confused by this debate or the urgent need for a long-term solution. 2) Lack of Strategic Foresight: if you can’t imagine what the future of ICT looks like (10 year view) and the key application drivers, based upon the current trends, then it’s easy to underestimate the demand for greater bandwidth or symmetrical broadband access (high-speed uplink and downlink). 3) Lack of Financial Incentives: if you’re a forward-looking Service Provider that is being chastened by your own shareholders when you proactively invest in infrastructure, and the tone of most other stakeholders is equally punitive, then it’s no wonder that leaders of these for-profit companies are inclined to implement short-term solutions. 4) Abundance of National Pride: if facing the reality of a declining role in the global networked economy is too depressing, and the near-term prospects for positive change seem bleak, then denial of the full gravity of the situation can be comforting for some people. In this scenario, perhaps it’s human nature to defer the tough decisions.

  2. I think Ryan Kim ( of GigaOm prepared a nice summation of Chairman Genachowski's comments here: It's striking that the US is 40th out of 40 in broadband investment. Why do you think we spend little time proactively speaking about broadband and its importance to our future competitiveness (not you...but, the "collective we")? It's of importance to all of us and not just SPs or Cisco.