This country has been challenged to make broadband available to 98 percent of Americans. It’s a challenge to lay the foundation for education, innovation and equal opportunity in the 21st century.
Unfortunately, recent research shows that our country ranks No. 15 in broadband penetration. We rank No. 26 in broadband speed, behind countries such as South Korea and even Romania. The situation is especially dire in rural America, which has essentially become an “emerging market” for broadband. Rural communities often lack the most basic fiber optic connectivity, which puts them at a disadvantage when it comes to attracting new businesses, creating jobs, and gaining access to education.
The Shrinking Spectrum
With hundreds of millions of Americans using smartphones, tablets, and other devices to access the Internet, wireless spectrum is nearly at capacity. A recent Cisco Systems report paints a picture of wireless capacity pushed to the extremes: while smartphones represent only 13 percent of total global handsets in use today, they represent over 78 percent of total global network traffic, network hogging mobile video traffic will exceed 50 percent of total traffic by the end of 2011.
The result? We’re on track to run out of network capacity in less than two years. In short, we have too many devices and too little airwaves in use to support them.
A Restrictive Duopoly
An even more pressing issue that is slowing broadband momentum is the wireless industry’s competitive landscape. Currently dominated by only a few players, industry consolidation is threatening to create a market where only two companies have nearly 80 percent share. Compare this to the top two automakers in the U.S. that have 36 percent share. Everyone is paying the price of this shrinking competitive landscape. Consumers are paying the price through higher rates. Businesses reliant upon technological innovation are paying the price.
And our nation is paying the price, because without a vibrant broadband economy, innovation, education, creativity, and discovery all will suffer – at a time when we can least afford it. The biggest players are eliminating unlimited data plans and slowing down other users who they decide are using too much of the network’s capacity. What’s the point of owning a smartphone if your carrier won’t let you use it the way you want?
American Ingenuity and Our Broadband Future
The ideal resolution would revolutionize the wireless landscape and place the market leaders on their heels by opening the industry to emerging companies that will offer real choice to the consumer for the very first time. This network would boast the most advanced wireless technology and provide nearly every person in this country with reliable, affordable access.
This network would not only respond to the government’s challenge to connect 98 percent of Americans, but also create jobs and ensure this nation reaches, and then surpasses, its competitive and economic potential.
Just as important, this fix will come from American ingenuity. It would be born out of the determination, inventiveness, and exceptionalism that have driven generations of American innovation, from the automobile to the airplane to the personal computer to the tablet.
Thankfully, American ingenuity already has come to the rescue. A new wireless infrastructure is within reach.