THE BLOG
06/14/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

A Global Golden Age for Broadband

Today, we are at the perimeter -- the very periphery of a Global Golden Age. A period of prosperity where information is available in near real-time and it is this availability that changes societies. I make this claim with a certain amount of conviction. This certainty is fed by the fact that we are more connected today than at any other time in our history. It is this connectivity that will foster the innovation that will be leveraged to bring forth an acceptance of equality. This impartiality is a fundamental ingredient that will drive solutions for economically underprivileged neighborhoods and nations.

The foundation of this connectivity is broadband. It will allow us to connect to any data source from any device. Broadband changes the speed in-which we communicate, how we consume and produce content, it allows us to multitask and keeps us tethered to the digital world. Broadband is a disruptive technology -- it changes societies. It makes the World's total digital content of 500 exabytes available to its 6.8 billion inhabitants.

Unfortunately, according to the Internet World Stats there are only 1.8 billion Internet users. The low number of users can be (partially) attributed to some of the most economically underprivileged nations like Sierra Leone, Somalia and Zimbabwe. Thankfully, worldwide broadband penetration is on a steady rise. According to the Yankee Group there are broadband initiatives in various emerging markets such as -- Asia-Pacific, Africa and Latin America. Additionally, between Q2-2009 and Q3-2009 countries such as Moldova (49.1%), Belarus (45.1%) and Indonesia (39.2%) are leading in yearly broadband growth. Due to the steady adoption of broadband the National Science Foundation projects that by 2020 there will be 5 billion Internet users -- worldwide.

The United States is one of the heaviest users of the Internet -- 234 million. Unfortunately, we have fallen to 25th in broadband penetration. In an effort to jump-start the economy and reclaim our broadband dominance -- the 111th Congress ratified the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. Shortly after it was enacted, Congress instructed the Federal Communications Commission to design a National Broadband Plan. The Recovery act appropriated $7.2 billion to expand broadband access. Additionally, the plan is intended to be a broadband framework where multiple initiatives are realized -- economic growth, job creation, improving education, telemedicine and national security.

The National Broadband Plan is a 377 page document which in part defines six goals. These goals are long term and focus on affordable access, mobile innovation, 100Mbps downstream, 1Gbps to anchor institutions, a public safety network and the ability to manage energy consumptions.  I believe one of the most important parts of the plan is digital literacy. The proposal introduces the Digital Literacy Corps:

"The Digital Literacy Corps will mobilize hundreds of digital ambassadors in local communities across the country," she said. "This is about neighbors helping neighbors get online."

--Mignon Clyburn, FCC Commissioner

According to Pew Internet study by John B. Horrigan and  Susannah Fox, there are four classes for why homes do not have broadband. These are the areas in-which the Digital Literacy Corps can focus their energies:
  • Digitally Distant
    • 10% of the general population. Median age is 63. Half say that the internet is not relevant to their lives or they lack the digital literacy to adopt broadband.
  • Digital Hopefuls
    • 8% of the general population. Low-income, heavily Hispanic and African American. Likely to say they want to go online, but lack the resources.
  • Digitally Uncomfortable
    • 7% of the general population. Likely to own a computer, but lack skills and interest in taking advantage of all the internet has to offer.
  • Near Converts
    • 10% of the general population. Median age is 45. Cost is the biggest barrier to having broadband at home.
The economic and social impacts of broadband are clear but the solutions are not so clear. I believe that every country needs a National Broadband Plan which will address each countries needs. As established markets and emerging markets are forging ahead with their broadband initiatives -- we cannot forget the economically underprivileged nations. As global citizens we need to help countries like Sierra Leone, Somalia and Zimbabwe. Thankfully, the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) is working with committed stakeholders towards this goal.