A new report on <a href="http://www.itu.int/newsroom/press_releases/2009/07.html">America's ranking in terms of broadband penetration</a> is likely to set off a new round of futile debate about where we stand.

Michael Hickins, Contributor

March 5, 2009

3 Min Read

A new report on America's ranking in terms of broadband penetration is likely to set off a new round of futile debate about where we stand.According to the report, the U.S. ranks 17th out of 154 countries in our use of information and communication technologies, in large part because we do a poor job of providing access to broadband. (Boy, do we suck!)

On the other hand, the report says U.S. broadband pricing is lower -- relative to income levels -- than anywhere else in the world. (We're No. 1!)

The broadband penetration number seems to contradict a study reported by the New York Times a couple of weeks ago which ranked the United States first in terms of the (good) use we put to broadband (We're No. 1!).

The so-called "connectivity scorecard" and attendant story was ridiculed by many, including most people who commented on the story, for being rigged to produce a desired result.

As one of the more polite comments put it:

America might be #1 in utilizing broadband for economic use, but the quality of broadband service available in America lags far behind many other developed nations.

(Boy, do we suck!)

But those are just the most recent in a procession of reports long enough to fill most small-town public libraries.

The reports are accompanied by competing interpretations pitting those who say the federal government should impose greater broadband penetration on carriers against those arguing the market should dictate -- and those fights are only proxies for the vicious fight between those who believe the government should enforce network neutrality provisions versus those arguing that the market can police the likes of Verizon and AT&T.

Now comes a paper from the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation which basically says, instead of arguing over penetration levels, let's use the $7.2 billion allocated for broadband by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act to get on with filling in the gaps we all know exist.

Given the relatively limited funds allocated to broadband in the stimulus package, we believe that the most effective use of these funds is to support the deployment of moderate speed broadband to homes or businesses in unserved areas, and not be used to subsidize higher speeds in areas where homes can already subscribe to broadband. We suggest moderate, as opposed to high speeds, since there is normally a tradeoff of coverage extent versus speed. We suggest a focus of stimulus funds on unserved areas because the cost of connecting unconnected homes and businesses is greater than the funds available, and this is an important opportunity to bring connectivity to these areas.

Once that is accomplished, we can get busy with the business of ramping up next-generation broadband.

Next-generation broadband represents a core infrastructure that will be increasingly woven into the fabric of life for all citizens, impacting on a daily basis their ability to telework or actually operate their own businesses from home, interact with friends and family, receive high-quality entertainment, interface with their government, and manage their family's health and household activities.

In other words, let's stop arguing about how far ahead or behind we stand relative to the rest of the world, and simply invest in improving the infrastructure so we can become "No. 1!" where it matters.

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