• United States
IDG Enterprise Consulting Director

Hi-tech on the campaign trail

May 28, 20044 mins
BroadbandData Center

Now, the use of broadband has tripled since 2000 from 7 million subscriber lines to 24 million. That’s good. But that’s way short of the goal for 2007. And so – by the way, we rank 10th amongst the industrialized world in broadband technology and its availability. That’s not good enough for America. Tenth is 10 spots too low as far as I’m concerned.President George W. Bush

Dear Vorticians,

It’s an election year and while coverage of the presidential race has been dominated by the divisive war in Iraq and the up-and-down economic news, it’s interesting and encouraging that both candidates have made the expansion of broadband access a campaign issue.

Those who routinely decry the laggard pace of broadband adoption in the U.S. have blamed the ‘problem’ – at least in part – on the lack of a clear, national broadband policy. (Whether we have a broadband problem, or whether the market is simply growing as it should under the guidance of the economy’s invisible hand, is debatable.) Now, both Pres. Bush and soon-to-be Democratic nominee John Kerry have made universal broadband access a plank in their campaign platforms.

Both have cited the importance of broadband to future growth in the economy and jobs and both have spoken on the topic on multiple occasions.

But don’t get excited. While the two candidates laud the beneficial effects of broadband, neither is very specific on how we’ll get to universal access. I’ll explain what they’ve promised and you tell me what you think.

Here’s what Pres. Bush has proposed:

* We must have strong competition among service providers. Granted, but the president is not clear on how the federal government will assure that.

* No taxes. Pres. Bush has called on Congress to make sure that broadband access is not taxed. Amen.

Telecommunications is one of the most heavily taxed offerings in the U.S. – right up there with cigarettes and alcohol, which can kill you. Anything that helps keep access costs down is a plus.

* Make it easier to use federal land to run fiber-optic cable and put up wireless transmission towers. Again, that’s good, but will it dramatically change the economics of serving rural customers?

* Encourage “technical standards to make possible new broadband technologies, such as the use of high-speed communication directly over power lines.” Sounds great. But the president doesn’t say who ought to come up with these standards. It should make any free-market enthusiast nervous when the government gets into the technology game.

* Open more federally controlled wireless spectrum for auction for “free public use.”

Interestingly, Kerry’s platform starts by calling for more efficient spectrum allocation as well. On his Web site, he writes: “Wi-Fi networks at home are becoming cheaper, a Wi-Fi phone has been developed, and schools nationwide are setting up Wi-Fi hot spots to connect their students to the Internet.  The potential for this and other technologies that could operate in unlicensed spectrum is limitless. However, our spectrum rules are designed on the notion that spectrum is a finite, scarce resource. Kerry will work to make more spectrum available for experimentation with new, more efficient technologies and radios. He also believes that the Federal government could reallocate spectrum and make it available for third-generation wireless phone networks.”

The other main component is Kerry’s broadband plan is a tax credit for companies that provide broadband access to rural and “underserved” parts of the country. No detail on what that credit would encompass.

On the whole, the candidates have put out some fairly obvious ideas. Broadband is good, everyone should be able to get it, it should be affordable and we should encourage alternative technologies.

But do they really get it? Would any of these ideas really spur a broadband renaissance? Do they constitute real broadband “policies”?

You’re the experts. What do you think? What should the candidates be saying and doing on the broadband front? Which man would more effectively drive the broadband agenda? Drop me a line at

And, Mr. President, don’t you mean the U.S. is nine spots too low on that list?

Bye for now.