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Nadworny: Broadband

04/27/10 7:55AM By Rich Nadworny
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AP/T. Talbot
(HOST) Commentator Rich Nadworny has been thinking about life, liberty - and access to the internet.

(NADWORNY) Recently, the FCC announced a broadband plan for the United States. It aims to increase the number of people connected to the Internet and increase the speed that people connect to it. The FCC's goal is to allow us to surf the web up to 25 times faster than we do today!

It's surprising that the U.S. hasn't developed a plan up to now. Apparently it's the only industrialized nation without a national policy for Internet access. What isn't surprising is that big broadband companies, such as Comcast and AT&T, immediately came out to push back against the plan.

Why isn't that surprising? Well as critical as broadband is to our national economy, growth and innovation, those goals don't always line up with the business goals of some corporations. Broadband planning is long-range; it's about building for the future, the education of our public and the creation of new businesses. Corporation planning is often more short-term, especially with those who focus on stock price as their measure of success.

And as we all know, building broadband access in rural areas is expensive. Economically it doesn't always make sense for a Comcast or a Fair Point to do so. As an example, just look at our own Vermont broadband initiatives. For the last 8 years, the governor and his staff seem to have a persistent and nagging case of  connectile dysfunction. That's partly because they've relied on their business allies to do the connecting, but it's not always in the businesses' short-term best interests to do so.

Burlington took another broadband route by striking out on its own through a city-owned utility. And they've landed in an economic quagmire. Obviously neither of these two solutions is working very well.  Our Vermont experience shows us that perhaps the best way forward in expanding broadband is a public/private sector partnership, where each side can make the proper compromises to ensure that we reach our larger goals. But we'll need a strong government partner to make that happen.

And for those of you who think this is just about faster surfing of the Web, think again. A recent study by the European-American business council showed several countries outpacing the U.S. in innovation, the key and maybe the only driver in our economic growth. When even social welfare states like Sweden and Denmark outpace us in innovation by linking broadband connectivity and capitalism, it's time to take note.

It's time to shift the direction we're taking and the Obama administration's broadband plan is a necessary step in the right direction. I'm not sure that broadband access is an inalienable personal right, like some have suggested, but I do know that almost every single business and person in this country is dependent upon it, in one way or another. I know my business is.

It's time to get serious about Broadband and treat it as a national priority. It's just too important to leave to private businesses to solve on their own.

(TAG) You can find more commentaries by Rich Nadworny on-line at VPR-dot-net.
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