There's little debate that the United States lags behind other industrialized nations in high-speed Internet use. According to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), more than 100 million Americans don't have broadband at home because they either can't get it, can't afford it, or aren't aware of its benefits. Some 65 percent of U.S. households have broadband, a far lower adoption rate than in other technologically advanced countries such as Singapore (88 percent) or South Korea (95 percent).
And that's why FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski is proposing a National Broadband Plan that would greatly widen the data pipe to most American homes. Speaking in Washington D.C. on Tuesday at the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners conference, Genachowski set an ambitious goal: His “100 Squared” initiative would bring 100-megabit-per-second broadband to 100 million U.S. households by 2020.
Is the 100 Squared plan doable? It depends on whom you ask. Qwest Communications CEO Edward Mueller tells Reuters that not only is the plan is unrealistic, but that consumers don't want 100-Mbps broadband. But at DSL Reports, blogger Karl Bode writes that not only are home broadband speeds of 100-Mbps very feasible within 10 years, they'll arrive whether or not the FCC gets involved.
It's true that home broadband providers are busily upgrading their networks to enable faster connections. Verizon's FiOS Network could easily bring 100-Mbps service to the home, and cable companies are implementing the DOCSIS 3.0 spec to achieve similar goals. Comcast's Extreme 50 Service, for instance, currently offers download speeds as fast as 50 megabits per second. At AT&T, there's a broadband Uverse package with 24-Mbps downloads. Add these efforts together, and it's a reasonable assumption that 100-Mbps broadband in the home could happen within ten years.
Will it reach 100 million homes? That's questionable. Certainly, consumers would benefit greatly from increased competition in the home broadband market — something better than today's telco-cable duopoly.
Don't Forget Google
Google is planning a series of "experimental" fiber optic networks designed to bring blazingly fast 1-gigabit-per-second broadband — yes, that's 10 times faster than the FCC plan — to a small number of U.S. communities. While no one's suggesting that 1-gig service will go mainstream anytime soon, a successful Google broadband implementation would no doubt boost consumer demand for broadband service that far exceeds today's relatively poky DSL and cable modem connections.
Do we need 100-Megabit or 1-gigabit broadband? Absolutely. This is one of those build-it-and-they-will-come scenarios. "They," in this case, are the online applications that require faster broadband than what's currently available.
Genachowski points out that various Internet apps that aren't feasible today, such as numerous health care and educational uses, would be enabled by ubiquitous, super-fast broadband. I'd also add that the growing popularity of movie-streaming services such as Netflix, VUDU, and Amazon On Demand, are a good indication that consumer demand for a faster Internet will only continue to grow.