It isn’t new news that the United States lags in broadband adoption and download speeds. The United States was one of the world leaders on broadband penetration in the 1990s, ranking fourth among other developed and developing nations. But by 2006, the U.S.’s standing slipped drastically, according to the Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development, indicating a lack of leadership on broadband development on a variety of levels.
Broadband, which is used by private citizens, local governments and the private sector every day, has the ability to transform the way we communicate, work, learn and socialize. Many experts believe that much of the economic growth that has taken place in recent years has resulted from the use of broadband networks to improve productivity, provide better products and services and support innovation in all industries. Better access also defines our competitive edge in the world by how many of our citizens have universal and affordable access to broadband services.
The Federal Communications Commission defines broadband access as speeds ranging from as low as 200 kilobits per second (kbps), or 200,000 bits per second, to 30 megabits per second (Mbps), or 30,000,000 bits per second. However, a report of countries with the fastest internet speeds shows that the average speed in the U.S. is about 616 kbps; drastically slower than in South Korea, which topped the list at an average of 2,202 kbps. For the end user like you and me, it means there is a greater chance that your favorite Netflix, Youtube, or Hulu video will crash while you are watching it here in this country. But there are also broader, national concerns. Without a higher standard for broadband connection and more investment in it, this country is at a disadvantage when it comes to competing internationally in the development and provision of services delivered over broadband networks.
One of the biggest challenges with broadband access is that it isn’t universally available to all parts of the country. Providing service to less populated areas can prove to be unprofitable for the private sector, making access uneven and spotty. “The big carriers have stopped investing in next-generation networks, leaving communities with few options but to consider their own investments.” says Christopher Mitchell, Director of the Telecommunications as Commons Initiative at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. The flipside to this argument, though, is that access doesn’t always imply usage. There is a lack of understanding of how broadband access can truly impact a person’s day to day life, from something as small as paying a bill online versus mailing a check in to opening doors up for on-line education when local options are not available.
Revisit CitiesSpeak in the weeks to come for a more in-depth look at technology and broadband issues as they play out in fields of education, health care, transportation and finance.