Internet Policy Advice Rolls in for Obama

By Roy Mark  |  Posted 2008-12-02

Internet Policy Advice Rolls in for Obama

In the immediate days after the election of Barack Obama, technology leaders, academicians and consumer groups can't seem to hold enough meetings, roundtables, Web seminars and conference calls to push their ideas to the administration in waiting.

If there is one area of universal agreement among the groups, it is that high-speed Internet connections for Americans should be a top technological priority for Obama. President Bush, of course, said the same thing in 2004, setting a national goal of affordable broadband access for all Americans by 2007.

It didn't happen. Bush put his faith in the free market, but-for whatever reason-the United States tumbled to the middle of the pack among industrialized nations in broadband penetration, falling behind Denmark, the Netherlands, Norway, Switzerland, Iceland, Sweden, Korea, Finland, Luxembourg, Canada, the United Kingdom, Belgium, France and Germany.

"If you look overseas, most of the world's leading nations have half a dozen or more companies offering a similar broadband product," Ben Scott, policy director at Free Press, said Dec. 2 at a Capitol Hill tech conference. "They're competing on price. They're competing on speed. They're competing on the attractiveness of the services they offer on top of their broadband package."

In the United States, approximately 99 percent of all broadband connections come from telephone and cable companies offering either DSL or cable modem service. Scott noted that "competitor" nations have worked to build a broadband infrastructure that is available to multiple providers.

Will the next president take technology seriously? Click here to read about Obama's "innovation team."

Cisco Systems, Google, Microsoft, Intel and a host of other tech companies, trade groups and public policy organizations believe a national broadband policy is critical to America's economic vitality, educational opportunity, public safety, energy efficiency, environmental stability and global competitiveness.

"Without high-quality, reliable and accessible broadband that reaches every part of our nation, we will miss out on the robust opportunities of economic growth, job creation, collaboration and social benefits delivered by Web 3.0," said Jeff Campbell, senior director of Technology and Trade Policy for Cisco. "Implementing a national broadband strategy must be a priority for the new administration and the 111th Congress."

Internet Policy Advice Rolls in for Obama

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To underscore his point, Campbell cited a study conducted by the Said Business School at the University of Oxford and underwritten by Cisco that analyzed broadband connections in 42 countries for their ability to benefit from next-generation Web applications and services. Using nearly 8 million records from broadband speed tests conducted by worldwide users, researchers calculated statistical averages for each country of several key indicators used to determine the quality of a broadband connection.

The researchers concluded that a broadband-quality connection is mainly affected by broadband speeds in both directions, latency, network oversubscription and packet loss. The United States finished well back in the pack.

"[The study] was developed on the premise that the new generation of Web applications will rely on a higher level of performance of broadband connections," Alastair Nicholson of the University of Oxford stated in the study. "Average download speeds are adequate for Web browsing, e-mail and basic video downloading, but we are seeing more interactive applications, more user-generated content being uploaded and shared, and an increasing amount of high-quality video services becoming available."

The report concludes that future applications that are sure to strain the Internet include consumer telepresence for communications, health care and education, high-quality video file sharing and streaming, high-definition IPTV, cinema-quality live event broadcasting, and advanced home automation.

Campbell said, "It's critical that government and industry work together to create a 21st century information infrastructure that ensures U.S. economic and social growth in the future."

Campbell, Scott of Free Press and most members of the tech alliance pushing for Obama to make broadband availability a top priority are supporting the type of public-private partnerships touted by the Clinton administration.

Not everyone at the Dec. 2 Capitol Hill confab agreed.

"We need to be wary of any policy that might scare away capital," Republican Federal Communications Commission member Robert McDowell said, "especially given the state of the capital markets today. I don't think $100 billion taxpayer program is the right way to go right now."

Scott, though, claims the moment is now.

"I look at this as a real Eisenhower moment. You look back at the 1950s: The government and the private sector got together and triggered investment in our highway systems," Scott said. "We need to have a similar 21st century highway bill where we invest in our broadband infrastructure."

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