Panelists agreed that in the near future, broadband will become an indispensible part of American life.
The "Nearly Boundless" Benefits of Broadband
As one speaker insightfully noted, watching the winter Olympics reminds us that Americans don’t take well to coming in second best.
Yet the nation is falling alarmingly behind in a vitally important area: the provision of fast, affordable and accessible broadband service to every American.
Broadband, in this context referring to high speed data transmission over fiber optic cables, provides cable programming to TVs and Internet access to computers. It is a key to a successful life in the 21st century.
An estimated 10 million Americans have no access to broadband service; millions more must use public terminals such as those in libraries to take advantage of the limitless benefits of the Internet. Moreover, the broadband service that Americans do have is slow, measured against the standard of many other nations.
What to do about all of that was the subject of a Feb. 24 symposium, “Implementing the National Broadband Plan: Perspectives from Government, Industry and Consumers.” The daylong event was hosted in the downtown Washington, D.C., offices of Wiley Rein and was sponsored by The Catholic University of America Columbus School of Law’s CommLaw Conspectus: Journal of Communications Law & Policy and the Institute for Communications Law Studies, in cooperation with the Federal Communications Bar Association. Professor David Irwin, director of the law school’s communications law institute, and Professor Donna Coleman Gregg supported and supervised the planning of the conference.
Nearly 150 guests packed the room to hear experts from the public and private sectors debate what an effective approach to broadband service should contain.
Edward Lazarus (above) chief of staff to FCC chairman Julius Genachowski, set the tone by laying out the urgent need to act.
“The United States invented the Internet, but when it comes to broadband we are falling behind,” said Lazarus. “The digital divide has become an opportunity divide.”
The FCC will soon submit a plan to Congress that offers the triple goals of expanding broadband access to every citizen, holding costs in check while improving the technical capabilities of the system.
Over the course of the day, more than two dozen panelists weighed in on various aspects of the ambitious and complicated plan. They discussed how other countries have instituted national broadband plans, lessons learned from those plans and which ideas may or may not work in the United States.
They debated the possibility and wisdom of regulating media content on the computers and mobile device screens, including whether the FCC has the statutory authority to do so. Afternoon panelists examined the role different government agencies will have in implementing the national broadband plan, including their agencies’ efforts in increasing broadband deployment and adoption.
The speakers represented a broad range of stakeholders in the national broadband plan. They included representatives from the FCC, the State Department, Verizon, Google, Consumers Union, the United Church of Christ, the Progress & Freedom Foundation, the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation and many others.
While there was plenty of disagreement over the fine points of a national broadband strategy, there was consensus that doing nothing and allowing America to slip further behind in the deployment of a vital technology was not an option.
Susan Ness, a panelist and former FCC commissioner, warned of “a future society not of innovation, but of imitation” if Americans are complacent about broadband.