"Today, nearly all Japanese have access to 'high-speed' broadband, with an average connection time 16 times faster than in the United States - for only about $22 a month."
Many people, myself included, automatically assume that the United States is on the forefront of the Internet revolution in terms of technological development and use. While this is true in many cases, Thomas Friedman's wake-up call in Friday's New York Times shows that when it comes to high-speed Internet connections, we are being outstripped by countries like Japan, South Korea, and even China.
This news is particularly discouraging because it was only about a year ago when, in the early stages of the presidential campaign, Bush was touting affordable broadband access for all Americans by 2007. A very ambitious goal, and despite certain deregulatory actions taken to facilitate the expansion of broadband, this vision seems far from being realized. The problem is not limited to rural or poor areas. Even back home in my suburban Maryland neighborhood, DSL access is unavailable, and cable-modem Internet service runs around $50 per month.
Telecom companies should be thinking more aggressively about expanding and improving broadband service. The government should be encouraging this, and providing incentives to these companies for the proliferation of high-tech solutions. Or, the government itself could take on some of the burden. The city of Philadelphia recently announced that it will spend $15 million to create a city-wide wireless Internet zone, providing access on the cheap to subscribers for under $20 per month. This kind of tech-savvy action captures my imagination. It's a perfect example of the kind of active approach we should be taking in order to make sure that in the digital age, we are not followers.
A quote in the article about Philly's Wi-Fi plans said "in today's world having access to the Internet is as important as keeping your house or feeding your family." A hyperbolic statement, yes, but the importance of connectedness--especially in the vastly more competitive world Tom Friedman envisions--is hard to understate. The cost of making advances on these technological fronts may seem expensive now, but it is an investment in the future that is definitely worth it. (Surely we don't want our chief contribution to the "Information Superhighway" be the "emoticon"?) The U.S. may have fallen a little behind the curve, but with our infrastructure and innovation, there's no reason we have to be riding the coattails of East Asia when it comes to the Internet revolution!