Sunday, April 13, 2008

Tim Wu calls for Broadband Czar

In a recent article In Slate, part of a series where contributors suggest policy initiatives for the next administration, Prof. Tim Wu of Columbia University calls for, amongst other things, the creation of the post of national Broadband Czar.

Tim was interviewed on NPR last Friday and will be speaking at a colloquium at NYU on Wednesday.

From the article:

Most people in technology will tell you that the
leading problem today—the one thing sinking all boats,
so to speak—is the broadband last mile, the final
connection between people and the Internet. Since
2000, computers have become faster, hard drives
cheaper, and free e-mail better, but for the vast
majority of Americans, Internet access remains clunky.
Same goes for wireless broadband (cell phones with
good Internet access), which is arriving, but slowly
and expensively. These facts limit what everyone in
the tech and media industries can imagine as effective
new products. They are also beginning to put the
United States at a disadvantage as compared with
nations in Asia and Europe that have invested more.

It's a daunting problem with a long history of both
public and private failure
. Unlike, say, building a
better dating service, broadband is an infrastructure
problem that requires solutions akin to improving
roads or plumbing. National infrastructure policy is
tough, and, at its worst, Bush's approach has borrowed
largely from Emperor Nero.

To start fixing things, the next president should
immediately announce a national broadband policy with
this simple goal: to put the United States back into
undisputed leadership in wireless and wire-line
broadband. But the question is how, and that's where
things get complicated. Proposed fixes abound: pay
Verizon, AT&T, or Comcast to build it? Treat the
Internet's pipes like the interstate highways, and
have the government build them? Use tax credits to
encourage consumers to buy their own fiber
connections? Sell property rights in spectrum or
create a "mesh" wireless commons?

No one really knows what the best answer is. That's
why the next president should appoint a specialized
broadband czar to get after the problem. Right now,
broadband is no one's responsibility, and the buck
keeps getting passed between industry, Congress, the
White House, and the FCC. The point of a czar would be
to make it someone's job to figure out what it will
take to fix broadband.

Read more!

Friday, April 11, 2008


Commuter buses in more than 20 cities now offer wireless Internet, according to an informal survey by the American Public Transportation Association (APTA). Wireless service is also on some commuter trains. APTA President William Miller predicts wireless Internet will become a service riders expect. Outfitting a bus with wireless capability costs about $1,000 to $2,000, transportation officials said.


Read more!

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

USA ranks #4 in W.E.F. Network Readiness Index

The United States is ranked 7th worldwide in a Networked Readiness Index in a new report issued by the World Economic Forum. The index is based on a variety of economic and political as well as technical factors.

This is in contrast to last year's OECD report, based on tighter criteria of bandwidth and connectivity, that ranked the United States 19th worldwide.

From a N.Y. Times article about the report:

An O.E.C.D. economist acknowledged the nuances in
taking into account government regulatory and related
factors, and said it was hard to draw a single
conclusion from the data. "I think we can say that a
lot of the situation in the United States is a result
of the lack of competition," said Taylor Reynolds, an
economist in the Internet and Telecommunications Policy
section of the O.E.C.D. "In Europe we have adopted an
unbundling strategy wholeheartedly."

That has led to more competition in markets outside the
United States, he said, which in turn has driven
Internet service providers elsewhere to offer speedier
service and lower prices.

One aspect of global competition that is being watched
closely, he added, is the way fiber optic networks are
being introduced in different regions. Even though the
United States has begun to accelerate the availability
of fiber optic services, it is lagging Europe and Asia
in network speeds.

While Verizon is offering 50 megabit FIOS in the United
States, 100 megabit services are common in Europe, and
the Japanese are offering 1 gigabit services.

Still, there are puzzling aspects to the American
market, which has higher broadband availability than
many countries but lower adoption rates. More customers
have retained dial-up services than most countries,
which might be explained by price or lack of attractive
broadband services.

The report concludes:

Establishing a pervasive and prosperous Internet culture
is as much about creating the right business environment
as it is about adopting the right technology. If governments-
national, regional, and municipal - want to
harness the potential of ICT, they must not only invest
in ICT infrastructure and the capabilities to support it,
but also be ready to modify their country’s relevant
institutional setting - or ICT ecosystem - to allow ICT
to yield its transformative powers.

More info: The Global Information Technology Report 2007-2008

Read more!

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

NY Times editorial on Broadband

An editorial in the Mar 29 2008 New York Times notes Earthlink's turnabout in Philadelphia, and calls for continued efforts to bring universal access.

The article concludes:

Broadband service is no longer a luxury. It has become a basic part of the infrastructure of education and democracy. EarthLink should fulfill the commitments it made. Even in these tough economic times, cities should keep pushing municipal Wi-Fi and looking for partners and plans that can make it a reality.

Read more!