What we need is a national networking policy. We need to encourage community networking, Wi-Fi and ISPs. We need to find a way to let the telcos succeed and provide what we need. The policy needs to be business and consumer friendly, it needs to create a competitive market and it needs to happen soon. If it doesn't, and we don't get America online and up and running, we risk becoming uncompetitive and missing out on the social and economic benefits of being a connected culture.If you have been following Gearhead recently you know of the trials and tribulations that have been experienced here at Gibbs Towers with our DSL connection.For the eight days we were offline we lived in a strange retro world where getting e-mail was again a chore, where looking up anything was no longer simple and easy. Even Mrs. Gibbs, who is proud to be disinterested in things digital, found that being offline was extremely inconvenient.The bottom line is we need high-speed communications services. By "we" I mean our culture, and by "need" I mean that the social and business benefits of broadband communications that will make us competitive globally.So what does broadband mean? I am firmly convinced that real broadband starts at 10Mbps. The standard DSL speed of 1.5Mbps is just a dial-up service with ambition. Until you get close to Ethernet speeds, everything is too slow for the things people want to do on the Internet.But cost matters. My friend Tony runs a studio in Los Angeles that processes soundtracks for DVDs. The studio has a client who requires the processed audio to be FTP'd to him, so Tony started using a T-1 line and found getting the data to the client was taking 22 hours per job. As a single project could consist of 12 or more jobs and multiple projects run side by side, there was an obvious problem.The cost of getting suitable bandwidth was considerably more than Tony would like to spend. As the client won't accept the files on CDs, DVDs or any other media, Tony started to think creatively about a more cost-effective solution. He theorized he could find someone in South Korea who has a big pipe - South Koreans pay around $33 for 8Mbps - and FedEx them his data and have them FTP it back to the United States! Sure, Tony's mostly joking, but isn't it crazy that South Korea has better service than us?As important as performance and cost is, customer service is equally important, and I don't mean just having a nice person answer the phone. I mean being able to provision a working service and help you with problems.When I upgraded to SBC Yahoo's 3Mbps Pro service, the company knew I was 15,000 feet from the central office. It turns out the Pro service gets flaky at that distance. So while TCP will ensure data delivery, the retries caused by packet loss seriously reduces throughput. In other words, it appears I upgraded to the higher speed just so I could pay more for what was the equivalent performance of the regular service!I also think service providers should monitor their own performance, even if customers are unaware and\/or don't understand the issues. It is a cruel trick to sell high-speed communications to Granny if Granny is unlikely to know if she is getting the promised performance. Broadband providers should include service monitoring and know exactly what is being provided to a PC or gateway.The problem is that the world has changed for the big telecom companies that are trying (albeit with limited enthusiasm) to supply broadband services: They have been used to making profit from selling a service provided over a very complex infrastructure. Although it has become less complex they still have a huge bureaucratic infrastructure along with strategies and profit goals that are pre-Internet, and they are struggling to evolve. The fact is they won't do it by themselves.In international broadband rankings it is said the United States ranks 12th, which is pretty sad. What we need is a national networking policy. We need to encourage community networking, Wi-Fi and ISPs. We need to find a way to let the telcos succeed and provide what we need.The policy needs to be business and consumer friendly, it needs to create a competitive market and it needs to happen soon. If it doesn't, and we don't get America online and up and running, we risk becoming uncompetitive and missing out on the social and economic benefits of being a connected culture.Connect to email@example.com. And discuss a national broadband policy on Gibbsblog.