FCC Chair Genachowski Touts New National Broadband Plan

Ever since I found out in a business magazine a few years ago that South Koreans enjoyed much faster Internet connections than in the U.S., and pay less than we do, I’ve been cursing my DSL service. I had dial-up up until relatively recently, and when I got my new DSL modem, I thought it was so cutting edge. Oh, was I naive. Knowing that there’s something better out there, I now feel like I’m operating in the technological Dark Ages.

Even factoring in faster cable modems, the U.S. is painfully behind other industrialized countries. The average connection speed in the U.S. is a tortoise-like 5.1 megabits per second (mpbs), compared with 20.4 mpbs in South Korea, according to Speed Matters, a group that advocates for more affordable broadband for all Americans. The U.S. is behind Japan, Sweden, the Netherlands, Germany and even some eastern European countries like Latvia, Lithuania and the Balkans. In other words, if you want to purchase and download your favorite summer blockbuster in high-definition, you’ll be waiting several hours, instead of minutes if you were living abroad. We’re still driving horses and buggies, while other countries are zipping around in Ferraris. For the country that invented the Internet and launched the computer age from Silicon Valley, this is embarrassing. I wonder if many Americans – living in a society that thinks it’s number one at everything – even know how far behind we are.

We’re at this point for a couple of reasons: not enough investment in upgrading our broadband infrastructure and the lack of a national policy that promotes high-speed broadband. But that’s changing. The change in administrations last January has brought a new makeup to the Federal Communications Commission. Julius Genachowski, the former technology executive who was sworn in as FCC chairman in June, says his goal is to boost America’s global competitiveness by improving the country’s broadband infrastructure. The FCC will be rolling out a National Broadband Plan in February 2010, and Genachowski says it will focus on three issues: deploying broadband in underserved communities such as rural areas; helping the approximately 40% of Americans who don’t use broadband adopt it; and developing a strategy to use broadband to make innovations in education, healthcare, energy and public safety. Genachowski says this policy will further economic growth and help create jobs. See below this recent interview with Genachowski discussing the new plan:

Having a faster Internet will not only make it easier to upload your favorite photos onto social networking sites, but will make it possible to take university classes online in real time via teleconferencing, allow medical providers to conduct procedures remotely, and let people stream high-definition video. The FCC’s plan sounds very exciting, but I’m also hoping the high cost of broadband in the U.S. will be addressed. At anywhere from $30 to upwards of $200 a month, broadband is unaffordable for those with low incomes. That just exacerbates the digital divide and leaves opportunities out of reach for many. It’s unfair to have to pay such high prices for slower service compared with other countries. The higher prices are a result of too little competition among telecommunications companies, as explained in this article from the New York Times.

Still, faster broadband means nothing if Internet service providers are allowed to choose what content can be accessed at the faster speeds. So it’s reassuring to hear Genachowski affirm his support for net neutrality – a free and open Internet that doesn’t discriminate. If you’d like to express your opinion about net neutrality, go to the FCC’s public comments page, OpenInternet.gov.