You know that old saying that you have to spend money to make money? It seems like that's where our national broadband policy has come to. With slow average speeds and high per-megabit prices, EDUCASE, an association of college IT managers, says that it could run up to $100B to fix our national infrastructure or about half of what we already paid the telcos to do. (h/t: Jonathan Karras) So what's the payoff? How about $134B in new jobs and decreased travel and medical costs? That 34% return isn't too shabby. Also consider that if all eligible federal employees took advantage of telecommuting options, they'd save $13.9B in travel costs.
It also couldn't be more pressing. Live in a rural area? Even if broadband is available, you probably can't afford it (nevermind what industry shills are saying.) Live in an area with broadband to spare? Be prepared to pay a lot more for it. Cable and phone companies are also inconsistent when it comes to upgrades. Some companies (like Qwest and now Embarq) seem to be unconcerned with enhancing speeds or they simply can't deliver. Others are building the infrastructure, but pricing still remains high and the networks may or may not support next-generation speeds from end-to-end.
We're also projected to stay behind. By 2012, a scant 10% of homes will have access to speeds of 10Mbps or higher. While FIOS and U-Verse can pass that many homes, AT&T shows little initiative to fix the last-mile copper bottlenecks on their FTTN U-Verse network (consider that Qwest can deliver 7Mbps on their aging and decrepit network) and FTTH has had limited deployment, leaving the US in eighth place.
Not all states are going to take it lying down. California formed a task force to figure out what to do and determined that public investment should be a component of whatever other solutions they decide to run with. Vermonters are forming a UTOPIA-style consortium to bring fiber to all of their residents. (h/t: Dirk van der Woude) Indiana dropped the hammer on monopolies and now competing providers are springing up like wildflowers in May, forcing prices down and service quality up.
A scary step backwards, however, is coming from our northern neighbors in Canada. The Great White North has spanked the US consistently on average speeds and broadband adoption, yet the Canadian government is talking about dropping the line-sharing requirements that have lead to a robust competitive environment. Scarily enough, this is following the steps that have gotten us into this mess in the first place.
What's obvious is that what we're currently doing isn't working and that efforts to correct course aren't coming from the federal level. Even many states can't seem to come up with a coherent broadband policy that increases competition, improves speeds and lowers pricing. If efforts like the one in Vermont show us anything, it's that solutions to broadband issues need to be local and not be inhibited by interference from state and federal legislators. Make sure those legislators hear from you that they need to let us solve the problems that they helped create.