Bombarded with tales of South Koreans and Swedes watching high-definition soap-operas via 100Mbps connections, the media has apparently developed a nasty case of broadband envy. This Reuters
article suggests the US has "missed the high speed revolution"
, while last week Business Week
dubbed America a "broadband backwater"
When did we become the village idiots of the broadband universe? Apparently since 2003, when the Organization for Economic Cooperation & Development released numbers
showing the U.S. had dropped from third to tenth in broadband penetration; behind countries like Belgium. Since that report, there's been a flood of worry reports using the OECD report as their center-piece.
To be sure, American broadband does have its problems. Many portions of the country remain either poorly or under-served. Providers avoid areas they deem unprofitable, then lobby against
those same communities when they want to provide affordable service to themselves. While CLECs are being crushed, the FCC chief embraces BPL (an untested and interference laden niche technology) as the broadband competitive holy grail.
As most will note, there's a big difference between wiring a compact South Korean urban sprawl, and draping fiber across the Rocky Mountains and into the rural communities of the plain states. A more just comparison would likely be Canada, but wait: they're not only offering faster speeds than American providers, but consumers pay less, and Canada rivals South Korea when it comes to broadband penetration.
So what exactly is the United States doing wrong? It depends who you ask. Ask the bells, and they'll tell you they're being prevented from creating a broadband wonderland because of pesky regulation. Deregulate the industry and force CLECs to build their own infrastructure, they argue, and every man, woman and child will be delivered fiber connectivity and a bevy of next generation services.
Ask consumer advocates and analysts like Gordon Cook
, and he'll tell you there's an unholy profit cabal between the FCC and incumbents, who limit expansion because they like the current profit margins from vanilla DSL and cable connections. With geographic monopolies, they've got the game rigged exactly how they like it, and it's their influence on the political machinery that's to blame for the country's broadband stall.
AOL's broadband president Lisa Hook, suggests the OECD rankings are more "an ego thing more than an economic issue."
Mercury News columnist Mike Langberg
shares a similar opinion, and suggests that trusting in Powell's deregulatory vision is the answer. "Broadbandits"
author Om Malik suggests
that "backward looking regulatory policies are to blame for US falling behind in the broadband sweepstakes"
Who's right? Where do we go from here?