Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Speed really does matter


High-speed broadband is essential for global competitiveness, in our homes, schools, hospitals, and workplaces.

Countries like Canada, Sweden, and South Korea have better, faster Internet connections. People in Japan can download an entire movie in just two minutes; that same movie can take two hours or more in the United States. Yet, people in Japan pay the same as we do in the U.S. for their Internet connection.

All too many Americans encounter a significant digital divide based on income and geography. According to the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO), two-thirds (62 percent) of Americans who earn over $100,000 a year have broadband, but only 11 percent of households that earn less than $30,000 a year subscribe. Only one-quarter of middle-income families earning between $30,000 and $50,000 a year subscribe to broadband. The GAO also found a significant urban/rural gap. While 29 percent of urban households and 28 percent of rural households subscribe to broadband, only 17 percent of rural households do.

Locally, there are wide disparities in high-speed internet access; amazingly, the only affordable internet option for most residents living in the heart of downtown Lewiston, is unreliable and mostly useless, dial-up access. Rural Maine isn’t any better. I am fortunate where I live in Durham, to be able to obtain high-speed access via my cable provider, but this is not inexpensive.

Currently, the United States is the only industrialized nation without a national policy to promote high-speed broadband. There are a number of bold but specific steps that the U.S. should take to recover our lost leadership and competitive position to ensure that all residents benefit from affordable, high-speed Internet access.

Fairpoint recently closed on its deal acquiring Verizon Communications’ 1.7 million landlines in Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont. Among FairPoint's commitments made to northern New England during the approval process, is an expansion of broadband Internet access availability. This is essential if the northern regions of New England are going to participate in economic revitalization.

A study just released by PolEcon Research found rural communities without access to broadband had just under 1 percent growth in private sector jobs compared to nearly 6 percent private sector job growth for rural communities with broadband access.

This is an important state and national issue and one that warrants the attention of policymakers and members of both the state legislature, as well as members of our national delegation. In fact, it might be much more important than the incessant drumbeat coming from some quarters about taxes.

FMI information about this subject, check out the Speed Matters report, produced by the Communications Workers of America, an organization that supports affordable high-speed internet for all.

1 comment:

rosburne@cwa9415.org said...

Where I live in California, just an hour from the Bay Area I am lucky to be getting 1309 Kbps download and 326 Kbps upload speeds on my DSL access. The Communications Workers Of America have been working on a project called Sped Matters. The goal is affordable high speed internet access for all Americans. There are so many applications that rely on high speed internet like, telemedicine and distance education and much more. Check out our website at www.speedmatters.org for more information and ideas on how to help realize this goal.