FCC chairman Julius Genachowski has been touring California for the past week discussing the national broadband initiative the FCC has been tasked with creating. The FCC has spent months gathering comments from both the public and various corporate interests, but the real challenge may be distilling those comments into a balanced plan that reflects the needs of actual people
as opposed to well-fleeced special interests.
Broadband is our generation’s infrastructure challenge,” Genachowski said at a meeting of executives, doctors and health companies, according to Wired
. “It is as important as electricity and highways were for past generations." That's quite a comparison to make, particularly given the rather large funding gap between the $7 billion allotted for broadband development last February and the $2.8 trillion (in today's dollars) that the United States government appropriated for the creation of the highway system between 1954 and 1958.
It's also unclear what role Genachowski believes the FCC and/or the US government should play. A recent report
from Internet Innovation Alliance suggests that improving broadband speeds could generate a further six billion in consumer benefits, but the same report highlights significant racial disparities in broadband uptake. 82 percent of all Asian households are currently connected to broadband, while just 57 percent of African-American households report the same. The FCC's funding could be used to shrink the digital divide along racial lines, provide connectivity to rural Americans who may currently be limited to dial-up or high-latency, expensive satellite, or defer broadband costs for families at or near the poverty line.
There are other alternatives that don't include funding broadband rollout—the FCC could choose instead to invest in researching future technologies, such as DOCSIS 3.0, or eschew wires altogether and instead focus on long-term wireless rollouts. Despite Genachowski's brave words, the government's seven billion in funding is paltry compared to the scope and complexity of any systemic attempt to tackle the myriad issues.
Building highways may have been easier.