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Why do we need a national broadband policy?

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: http://www.networkworld.com/columnists/2005/042505johnson.html?nl. 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 johna@nemertes.com.



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