IBM's Palmisano Warns U.S. Not To Fall Behind On Broadband - InformationWeek

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IT Leadership // CIO Insights & Innovation
Commentary
2/19/2010
08:57 AM
Bob Evans
Bob Evans
Commentary
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IBM's Palmisano Warns U.S. Not To Fall Behind On Broadband

With global IP traffic in 2013 expected to top 500,000,000,000,000,000,000 bytes (half a zettabyte, which is one trillion gigabytes), IBM CEO Sam Palmisano is warning that "our country will not be prepared for a new world that is increasingly built on the fusion of the physical and the digital" without a huge national broadband upgrade driven by private-sector funding and "enlightened" government policy.

With global IP traffic in 2013 expected to top 500,000,000,000,000,000,000 bytes (half a zettabyte, which is one trillion gigabytes), IBM CEO Sam Palmisano is warning that "our country will not be prepared for a new world that is increasingly built on the fusion of the physical and the digital" without a huge national broadband upgrade driven by private-sector funding and "enlightened" government policy.In an guest column in today's Wall Street Journal called Fix the Bridges But Don't Forget Broadband, Palmisano centers his argument on two key points: first, that the U.S. economy-in spite of our long and proud history in manufacturing-is now predominantly a services economy; and second, the imminent infusion of hundreds of billions of intelligent devices into every physical element of our world: from appliances and cars to power grids and rivers and fields of wheat.

As those many billions-some say it will be trillions-of intelligent devices begin throwing off that half a zettabyte of data mentioned in the opening paragraph, that information torrent will swamp our current broadband infrastructure and render the United States incapable of participating in the next wave of the emerging global economy driven by pervasive real-time intelligence.

Palmisano makes the argument:

Consider that services already comprise more than three-quarters of the U.S. economy. And consider that the future of services-whether in health care, finance, engineering or entertainment-will be increasingly digital, delivered over broadband.

Appreciating the issues at stake here begins with an understanding of the emerging digital economy. This shift is not just about data centers, high-definition TVs and mobile devices. We are seeing the infusion of instrumentation and intelligence into things no one would recognize as computers: power grids, rail lines and roads, supply chains, health-care systems, and even natural systems such as agriculture and waterways. This is generating huge volumes of vital data and intelligence.

Hidden treasures buried in the world's information are being unlocked. But that potential value could be choked off-and America's competitiveness could be severely hampered-if we don't have the infrastructure to handle the huge resulting data streams.

The answer, he says, lies in a combination of private-sector investment plus "enlightened" government policy (I use the quotation marks to highlight the highly unlikely possibility that our government is capable of delivering a policy bearing that quality). And as a reference source for the impact of what such a combination is capable of providing, Palmisano points to a 2008 study from the Information Technology & Innovation Foundation that correlates local and regional economic prosperity with advanced broadband infrastructure.

Here are links to two of that group's reports relative to this subject, and to Palmisano's WSJ piece:

Explaining International Broadband Leadership

Digital Quality of Life: Understanding the Personal and Social Benefits of the Information Technology Revolution

Fix the Bridges But Don't Forget Broadband

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