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According to a recent study, broadband access in the U.S. has dropped to 19th place worldwide. The recent passage of the stimulus bill will provide about $7 billion to improve it. But why is U.S. broadband so crappy in the first place? And can government intervention improve it? For a little insight, I sat down with Emily Green, CEO of the Yankee Group, a Boston-based consultancy that specializes in connectivity. They consultancy advises network providers, manufacturers, media companies and financial services companies, and also specializes in helping those companies deal with public regulations. The Yankee Group recently wrote an open letter to President Obama about the need for an "anywhere" network. In it, it argues that a Federally-motivated expansion of wired and wireless communications is one of the most vital components of economic recovery, community service, and improved health care and education.Is broadband access in the U.S. really that bad?There was a note in The New York Times the other day that sent me around the bend. There was a convocation of broadband industry folks a few days ago, and they came out and said that if you looked at the right metrics, the U.S. is actually number one in broadband access. Anyone who says that is engaging with delusional metrics. For a country that's as advanced as we are, and has provided so much leadership in the commercialization of the Internet, our deployment of broadband technology is pathetic and embarrassing.What's the problem?We're not short on ideas. We're short on people's understanding of the importance of a comprehensive, seamless, high-capacity digital network. A lot of articles in the media discuss the stimlulus' "shovel-ready" projects. But we need a network that is digital-worker ready. If we had that, we could re-shore some of the jobs that are leaving the country. We are moving to a service-based economy, away from a manufacturing economy. The projects in the stimulus that will have the longest impact won't be the bridges and roads. But to get that kind of economy, do we need the government to work with private companies? Many ISPs won't even divulge maps of their coverage to regulators. There is great economic benefit for the whole country if we have an expansive, higher capacity network. But for these companies, holding information close to the chest is genetic; it's an attitude born of long habit. It's as if they're saying, 'I'm not sure what will create my competitive advantage, but information is power--so I'll withhold as much as possible.' It's not a very Google-era perspective. Do they have good reason to protect that information? This information is too critical to stay private. Here's an exact analogy: Just because many highways in the U.S. are managed by independent companies, that doesn't mean we let them withhold information about where those roads go, or which facilities are at each stop. We're at the stage now where information highways are just as important as our physical highways.
what broadband? we have broadband?
Easy way to fix things: move to Japan.
There's also the option of having 1 big satellite dish that auto-adjusts the signal strength and some other things, which makes it unaffected by the rain, then have cables run a short distance from the dish to the people who want broadband Internet service in rural communities.
Take Japan for example, not too long ago they shot a satellite into space that "let users have Internet speeds up to 1.2 gigabytes" and "regardless of their location, only need to simply install a small antenna in their house or apartment that will allow them to "receive data at up to 155 Mbps and transmit data at up to 6 Mbps".
According to the BBC, launch and operation of Japan's satellite is estimated at US$480m. We spend 4 times that amount each week in Iraq, so money wouldn't be an issue.