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March 20, 2008

Survey Finds U.S. Lacking in Broadband Availability

By Susan J. Campbell, TMCnet Contributing Editor

Remember when it was so exciting to access the Internet from your home computer? Sure, you had to wait for the modem to connect and you had the privilege of listening to that awful noise while it made its connection, but once you were on – Wow! You were blown away by the information that was available and how quickly you could communicate with friends and family around the world.

Fast forward to today and the thought of waiting for a dial-up connection is enough to stress anyone out. In the U.S., 65 million individual rely on broadband services for work, education, entertainment and communications. But, there are still many Americans that have no access to broadband services and that dial-up scenario is one that is all too familiar.

This discovery is the result of a new telecom industry survey by Tellabs (News - Alert) that also found that this gap can also be contributed to the current Federal Communications Commission (FCC) definition of broadband, 200 kilobits per second. At such a rate, it takes longer to download a movie than to watch it.

Respondents of the survey strongly support expanding broadband availability in the United States, especially in under-served rural areas. This lack of broadband access, whether due to geographic or economic reasons, hurts productivity.

The study found that 89 percent of respondents think that the lack of broadband access hurts an individual’s educational productivity and employment potential; 81 percent think the U.S. should use some of the current Universal Service Fund to expand rural broadband; 79 percent think where you live should not dictate broadband availability; and 77 percent think economic status should not determine broadband availability.
“I find this survey of the telecom industry's perspective stimulating and insightful," said Ron Westfall, research director at Current Analysis (News - Alert), in a Thursday statement.
"A more accurate definition of what broadband is only helps elevate the debate and better frames the serious challenges we face. And whatever industry solution is eventually worked out, it's obvious the telecom industry will have a central role to play in further expanding access and the services that run over broadband access."

Industry professionals have called for a new definition of broadband. An overwhelming 94 percent of respondents said that the current FCC (News - Alert) definition of broadband does not deliver a true broadband experience. In fact, 84 percent felt that a better definition is a service that can deliver high-quality streaming video.

Broadband plays a critical role in the productivity, innovation and economic growth of the U.S. However, according to the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development, the U.S. ranks 15th in broadband penetration measured against population.
"We already have the technology and the business infrastructure to take America's broadband capabilities into the next generation and make this country the world leader in the provisioning of ultra high bandwidth services," said Joe Savage, president of the Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) Council, in Thursday’s statement.
"Indeed, the deployment of these services is already under way, with more than 2.5 million American homes now connected directly into high speed fiber networks. But we need to ensure that national, state and local policies encourage, and do not inhibit, every community's progress toward the high bandwidth future that is so important to our economic competitiveness."
"Broadband is crucial for keeping America competitive educationally and economically," said Dan Kelly, executive vice president for global products for Tellabs, in Thursday’s statement.
"There's no reason why the United States should trail other countries when it comes to broadband penetration. Our industry sees the clear need to expand broadband availability for all Americans."

There is no guarantee that the results of this survey will spur action on the part of the FCC to change its definition, but it is likely to get others thinking. With enough interest and noise among key players, change in the near future could be a probability.
Susan J. Campbell is a contributing editor for TMC (News - Alert) and has also written for To see more of her articles, please visit Susan J. Campbell’s columnist page.
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