By Martin Bosworth
GigaOm’s Om Malik points to a story detailing how broadband access is available for practically every city and community in Taiwan. This is a tremendous accomplishment for any country and one to be proud of, but it also draws more attention to the fact that the United States–supposedly the technological leader and innovator of the free world–is falling further and further behind in its adoption of broadband Internet services nationwide.
Emerging markets represent the next frontier for broadband, with some analysts estimating that nearly one-fifth of the world’s population will have broadband access of some kind by the end of 2008. Think about that. Nearly one in every six people across the entire planet will be able to use the Internet far more richly than dial-up could ever allow. That’s immeasurable potential for creating, consuming, and contributing content.
Meanwhile, fully half of America’s citizens do not have any broadband access. As Benton Foundation head Charles Benton noted, the deadline set by President Bush to achieve nationwide broadband availability for all Americans has long since passed, with little to show for it. Quoth Benton:
â€œClaiming that our nationâ€™s broadband deployment is on track when millions are disconnected and America is falling further behind is a little like standing on a flight deck and claiming â€˜mission accomplished.â€™ The facts just donâ€™t support it.â€
As I detailed in my statement of principles for America’s broadband future,Â low-income and middle-income Americans are being deprived of the chance to partake in that glorious engine of creation and commerce that is the Internet. Imagine all the jobs, ideas, and participation we’re losing–all the art, creation, and vision that isn’t happening because thousands of families and communities are stuck with snail-paced Internet access.Â Hell, even if it’s just to look at porn and silly Web comics, people should still have the option to choose broadband, and not be denied it by default.
The front-runner Democratic candidates have all correctly tied lack ofbroadband access to America’s failing leadership in innovation, and have put forth policies to address this to one level or another. (Here’re statements from Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, and John Edwards–Obama has the clearest and most detailed policy platform on this issue that I can see.) This is probably too wonky a topic to make it into the forefront of a debate, but then again, who would have thought the issue of net neutrality would have been such a front-burner issue?
Americans recognize that we’re lagging behind in our broadband access, and we want change. Countries like Taiwan are making it happen, and we can adopt their successes to the unique challenges America faces in order to give everyone the chance to make full use of the Internet, and share their innovations and ideas with the world.
Simply put, we can’t afford not to.