Friday, April 27, 2007

Whither Broadband?

It seems that American broadband penetration rates are falling, rapidly, behind those of the rest of the world.

From MuniWireless:
...OCED (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) data has tracked a steep decline in the growth and consequent use of broadband in the United States since 2001 when it ranked fourth in the world. In the last six months alone, the nation has dropped from 12th to 15th among the 30 industrialized member nations in the OECD.

..."The growing digital divide between the United States and the rest of the world will have real-world consequences," said S. Derek Turner, research director of Free Press. "The growth trends indicate that the United States is likely to continue to fall behind the rest of the world in broadband penetration, which will have lasting and significant effects on U.S. economic performance on the global stage."

All the stats are here.

It's not just the rest of the world, there's a digital divide INSIDE America too. There are still far too many people who cannot afford computers, much less broadband. At the same time, wireless internet projects are springing up all over the place. For example, Houston just signed a deal with Earthlink to throw up a network covering the 600 square miles of the city within the next two years. An aspect of the plan calls for up to 40,000 subsidized subcriptions to be provided to low-income users annually. What the plan doesn't address is where those same people are going to get computers to enjoy that access, but perhaps it should. According to the authors of this report;

...The benefits of higher broadband penetration accumulate exponentially. Thus even a minor increase in our ranking has a tremendous positive impact on American consumers. If broadband penetration were 50 percent of all U.S. homes, economists estimate that consumers would realize a $38 billion annual surplus. If household broadband penetration were at 95 percent, the consumer surplus would be $350 billion.

So does it matter to you? How about your community? The basic supposition here is that computer and internet access leads directly to economic benefit and development for American consumers. I agree to an extent. The internet has made possible different ways of doing business and created many new classes of businesses. Not to mention the impact on quality of life issues such as being able to work from anywhere at anytime, which allowed me to spend this morning with my daughter's class at the zoo and still stay on top of the office. I suppose you could call that increased productivity because without such access, I would have taken the whole day off instead.

But that's just me. I'm willing to bet that most of people are not so fortunate to have such a choice due to their income levels, the type of work that they do, broadband redlining, etc. But that's a story for another day.

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