Thoughts on the President’s Call for High Speed Internet

In last night’s State of the Union Address, President Barack Obama called on America to rebuild to win the future.  Part of the rebuilding America effort that the President mentioned was High Speed Internet.  He additionally noted that our infrastructure used to be the best – but our lead has slipped.  South Korean homes now have greater internet access than we do.

Some thoughts on these two sentences:

“Our infrastructure used to be the best – but our lead has slipped.”

  • There is nothing to say that American Internet infrastructure is not the best in the world.  Infrastructure is not simply made up of the last-mile.  It is the middle-mile, and the back bone, servers, and CDN networks, etc and so forth.
  • Various arguments for what is “best” could be made here:
    • The Japanese have the most robust FTTH (Fiber-to-the-Home) penetration in the world. Is that best?
    • The South Koreans have the top speeds. Is that the best?
    • America easily has the most bandwidth capacity, most robust back bones, CDN networks, and the most people online. Is that the best?
  • The argument for bandwidth capacity allowing for the claim of best infrastructure is a strong one.  Americans have the most available content of anyone on the Internet, a large chunk of this being YouTube and Netflix.  If not for leading the world in capacity, these types of services delivered to the number of simultaneous users that enjoy them on a daily basis would likely not be possible.
  • Does it really matter if a country has the top speed or the most technologically advanced last-mile if they have no content to take advantage of those speeds or a back bone that can’t support the sophistication of the last-mile?
  • At some point, speed simply becomes a number to brag about if the entire infrastructure is not balanced to perform at high levels across the board.

“South Korean homes now have greater internet access than we do.”

  • “Access” is tricky verbiage because it is unclear.  Most likely the President was purposefully vague.  Does access refer to availability, or does it refer to the ability to use the Internet at will?
    • If access refers to availability, then the data has shown repeatedly that 95% of Americans could get broadband Internet if they desired it; and,
    • Roughly 66% of the U.S. population has a broadband connection.
  • According to data released by Cisco this past fall, only one nation exceeded the United States in network traffic, South Korea.  However, in the Connectivity Scorecard reported that Consumer Usage & Skills, Business Infrastructure, and Business Usage & Skills are significantly behind the United States.  Meaning that the production from South Korea’s connectivity is mainly coming from government employees, while in the United States business sector individuals and consumers have better online skill sets and e-commerce is of much more importance to business and beneficial to the economy.
  • Which begs the question, why is their a desire to be like South Korea simply to boast high speeds when it is apparent from the data that America does what it does very well already?

If one takes a step back they will see that overall the United States infrastructure has more bandwidth capacity, has a more robust total infrastructure, can handle huge sums more connectivity than other countries, has more content, and better trained business people, higher skilled consumers, and richer e-commerce than anywhere else on Earth.

Can it be improved upon?  Absolutely.  But it will take enormous sums of investment dollars.  Consider that over the last two years Verizon and AT&T have spent roughly $30 billion on their private networks and the United States government struggled to pass a $7 billion broadband stimulus in 2009.  It will be very difficult for the President to find a way to invest the amount of tax dollars necessary to compete or exceed the investment of the private sector while additionally meeting the other promises he spoke of in the State of the Union like balancing the budget and reducing spending.

[Cross-posted at Digital Society]