The FCC vision for the future of communications in the United States, and its proposals for getting from where we are to where we need to be are imperative to maintaining a level playing field for business in America. The limited bandwidth is running out, and the digital divide continues to grow, and businesses on the wrong side of that divide will find it very hard to keep up with the competition.
Imagine the Indy 500 race. As long as all of the drivers have vehicles capable of producing 650-plus horsepower and achieving speeds in excess of 220 miles per hour everything is fair and it comes down to the wit and skill of the driver. Now, give half of those drivers a factory-standard, street-legal Chevy Camaro and see how they fare.
Businesses located in major metropolitan areas may not even realize the growing problem exists. Major metropolitan areas not only have high-speed wired and wireless broadband available, but typically have access to multiple providers, and even multiple options--like cable mode, DSL, or satellite--to get it.
However, businesses located off the beaten path are at a disadvantage. Private sector interests are not willing to invest any significant money to build an infrastructure that reaches to rural America. The population is smaller and the return on investment is virtually impossible to achieve.
Case in point: while the major wired and wireless broadband providers are balking at FCC initiatives to drive expansion of 100mbps broadband access to 100 million American homes, Google is pursuing a pilot test to push the envelope and demonstrate 1 gbps broadband. There is a major gap between the status quo, the FCC vision, and what is really possible if the investment is made.
Is it a crisis, though? At a hearing in Washington DC today, Representative Joe Barton of Texas--the top Republican member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee--pointed out that 95 percent of Americans already have access to broadband, and that it was the private sector--not the federal government--that invested in that infrastructure.
There are multiple issues being addressed within the National Broadband Plan, though--only one of which is the aspect of expanding broadband access to more Americans. The other factors involved include ensuring that private sector broadband providers have an incentive to push the envelope and continue to invest in innovation rather than stagnating.
When business was done primarily from within the confines of the office, workers had the benefit of high speed connections via dedicated T1 lines. As the American workforce has become increasingly remote and mobile, commerce is more and more reliant on high-speed broadband connections to employees' homes, and wireless broadband access for workers on the go.
Broadband speeds of 3 mbps or so are sufficient for connecting and surfing the Web or retrieving e-mail, but are inadequate for using newer technology or evolving business practices to capitalize on what is possible. As Sprint outlines on its site promoting 4G wireless broadband, there are some business scenarios that are impractical with standard broadband, but are made possible by faster broadband speeds:
• Real estate agents can conduct virtual property tours.
• Construction teams using 4G in the field can save valuable time by sharing schematics with engineers online.
• Insurance companies can speed their claims management through real-time communication with on-site adjusters.
• Health care professionals can improve their ability to remotely monitor patients.
• Emergency first responders can rapidly assess and coordinate disaster action with real-time on-site video and audio.
• Photojournalists can instantly transfer high-resolution images to the newsroom.
Now that Connecting America: The National Broadband Plan is public, battle lines are being drawn and the fight is just beginning. Businesses across America should seek to understand the proposals laid out in the plan, and make their collective voices heard.
Whether you think the FCC vision is the right direction for America, or you agree with the private sector interests seeking to maintain the status quo, now is the time to get involved as the details of America's future infrastructure are hammered out.