A lot of the stories I grazed through early this morning on my iPhone were about the U.S. stimulus package and, specifically, how a significant portion of that money was going to the tech industry. One of the expressed concerns was that much of the money would be going to large corporations, such as IBM, Cisco, and AT&T — and perhaps at the expense of innovation. I have to agree with this concern, though innovation is only part of the intent of stimulus, and many of the projects (problems) in my country are huge.
One such huge project (problem) is broadband expansion — making broadband information (The knowledge economy) available to all U.S. citizens. One of the questions being struggled with is, “What is broadband?”
Congress has earmarked $7.2 billion in stimulus aid to deploy broadband in underserved parts of the USA. But what does that mean, really?
The Federal Communications Commission is trying to come up with answers. At the request of lawmakers, the agency is in the process of defining “broadband,” “underserved” and other terms. The FCC is advising the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, which will make the final call on how stimulus money gets doled out. (What’s ‘broadband’?)
Definitions vary wildly. AT&T, according to the story, suggests a tiered approach, saying that 200 kilobits per second is a good starting minimum for a definition of “broadband.” Intel, on the other hand, says that 100 megabits is more reasonable. Considering how much of the content flowing around the Internet today is multimedia (i.e. YouTube), I’d side with the 100 megabits.
The challenge is getting it out to rural areas — and so much of the U.S. is rural and underserved by access to information. According to the story, the median download speed in the U.S., as of 2008, was 2.3 megabits. That rate was provided by a Communications Workers of America survey (see State-by-State Bandwidth Ranking). Of course some states are much lower, Montana mentioned with only 1.3 MB.
The story then attempted to compare the U.S. broadband with that of other industrial countries, by listing the mean bandwidths for Japan (63mbs), South Korea (49mbs), France (17mbs), and Canada (7.6). I have put together a data table that includes a number of factors that make achieving higher mean bandwidth easier in some countries than it is in others.
This is no excuse, however, for not bringing people into the knowledge age with all haste, and my country has floundered too long.
So, my question to you is, “What is broadband to you?” I’m not interested so much in numbers, as I am in what kind of access to information should citizens from any country expect to have in the 21st century? What do we need to know and what does that information need to look like?
Thanks in advance.
About the Author: 35 year educator, programmer, author, and public speaker. Read more from this author