Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Fight For Your Right to Broadband

Sick and tired and falling asleep while your PC downloads software updates or high resolution photos? Videos unwatchable because they're constantly stopping and starting? Are you a victim of pitiful bandwidth? Well, you're not alone. In fact, if you are an American it's your lot in life. We may be the world's super power, but we're laggards when it comes to Internet access. Instead of just grumbling, let's see what we can do to improve the situation.

Just how far behind are we, anyway? Start cheering "we're number 16." That's our rank in broadband subscriptions per 100 inhabitants. The U.S. weighs-in at 11.4 per 100. South Korea is #1 with 24.9 per hundred.

Oh but that's because we have much better connections, right? Wrong! South Korean users typically have DS3 level access at 45.50 Mbps. Japan is number one in the speed category. Japanese surf at 61 Mbps. The median download speed is 21.7 Mbps in Finland, 18.2 Mbps in Sweden, and 7.6 Mbps in Canada. The United States? We zip along at a medium speed of 1.97 Mbps.

Where are these numbers coming from? They're in a report called "Speed Matters" by the Communications Workers of America. SpeedMatters.org is also a Website dedicated to promoting high speed Internet as a strategic asset for the country. They're calling for 10 Mbps download and 1 Mbps upload as the broadband access benchmark by 2010. What is our current country's standard? 200 kbps.

The need for universal broadband at higher speeds is more than just a boost of adrenaline for online gamers or the ability to download movies in a couple of minutes. There are serious applications in telemedicine, advanced education, easy remote access to government services, economic growth for rural areas, and enabling people with disabilities.

I got to thinking about this and some more ideas popped to mind. One of our looming problems now is the skyrocketing cost of gasoline and diesel fuel. Perfectly good houses are sitting empty in the suburbs not because they are too expensive, but because people can't afford the cost of gas to commute to the cities. One way to take pressure off oil supplies and immediately cut consumer gasoline costs by 20% is simply to have everybody stay home one work day a week.

The way you avoid a productivity drop of an equal magnitude is to have them do their jobs remotely. That might not work too well for pipefitters, but anyone who lives on the computer all day is a prime candidate for telework. Imagine if you had the same 61 Mbps connectivity as they have in Japan. You would have your own desktop telepresence system for meetings and could access even the largest files over a VPN network.

The same could be true for middle and high school students. By restructuring the educational week, it might be possible to let the students interact in virtual classrooms one day a week and do all their reading and tests online. Just stopping all the school buses one day a week would cause a noticeable drop in diesel consumption and expense and would cut pollution as well. But who's going to watch those kids who should be in school? Why, the parents of course. They're home on the same days sharing that impressive 61 Mbps.

I'll bet you can come up with some even better ideas on how massive amounts of bandwidth, available to everyone, could change the way we live and work for the better. But to make any of it happen, we need to elevate high speed Internet in the minds of lawmakers as a matter of national infrastructure instead of a luxury item. If you agree, take a few seconds and sign a petition to the 2008 Presidential Candidates that urges them to make high speed Internet access a priority in their campaigns.

DSL, Cable and Satellite Internet service providers have also been steadily improving their broadband options. If you haven't checked in awhile, see what residential and home office broadband options or business location bandwidth options are available for your location now.

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