Thursday, July 2, 2009

A Broadband Plan for Whom?

Julius Genachowski was finally confirmed last week as the Chairman of the FCC. Today, he presented, "The FCC and Broadband: The Next 230 Days." A bold action plan for expanding broadband across the country? Maybe. Eventually. Right now it looks more like a primer on bureaucracy and abstract project management. (The presentation is available at

Two brief thoughts. First, recall the report on global broadband penetration from Strategy Analytics in mid-June. The United States ranked 20th, with 60% household penetration -- just after Estonia and Belgium and just in front of Slovenia. The top three spots went to South Korea, Singapore and the Netherlands with, respectively, 95, 92 and 88% penetration. The report also concluded that U.S. prospects aren't improving: the forecast is that the United States will fall to 23rd by the end of 2009. As if we needed a further reminder that mid-twentieth century American institutions -- the auto industry, medicine, here, technology -- are no longer automatically pre-eminent in the world. (

Second, at a time when free-market principles are justifiably being questioned in various industries, the priority of the government program appears to encourage private sector development through billions of dollars in stimulus grants and subsidies. A lot of funding, to be sure, at least for the companies being subsidized, but how coordinated will the resulting developing of broadband actually be. One of the mitigating factors in cross-national comparisons of broadband penetration is the size of countries -- expanding technologies in Singapore and the Netherlands is obviously a much lesser order of magnitude than in the U.S. Yet isn't that exactly the reason why there needs to be an overall strategic effort rather than one that's left to a market that has proven itself dysfunctional and unable to grow in a concerted way in the past? I'm not suggesting an entirely top-down government program. What does seem to make sense, though, is a plan that puts the larger public first and the vaunted entrepreneurs and technology companies, who obviously have heretofore not seen an economic motivation in expanding broadband across the country, second.

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