This is the first of three columns about what I see as some fundamental misunderstandings being promoted regarding policy implications of the Asian broadband experience. You’ve read some of this before, particularly about the misuse of "data" in relation to what is going on over there. It’s particularly important to look at the issue in depth because we are entering a crucial phase of broadband policy development here, and those decisions should be made on solid understanding, not skewed statistics and irrelevant comparisons. I’ll admit it-I’m a policy wonk. I’ve been deeply involved, on behalf of the cable industry, in policy issues for more than 30 years. What I see happening right now in the policy debate is either based on ignorance, naivet�, misunderstanding, guile, or simple intellectual dishonesty. Take your pick. It’s probably a combination of all of the above. But the arguments beg for some clarity, and I hope to provide some… admittedly from my perspective. As you know, the fundamental claim is that the United States is somehow behind in the race regarding broadband deployment and use. Repeatedly I’ve asked: what race, behind what, and so what? It may be easiest to start with a short review of what’s being said. For some time now there has been a concerted lobbying effort in Washington funded primarily by the "high tech" industry, chip makers, computer sellers, etc., to convince Washington that an initiative needs to be launched, with major funding included, to promote yet another push in broadband development and construction in the United States. This is supported by the premise that we are "behind" other countries in the "race" to have the country fully wired for high-speed Internet. Some subsets of this argument are that the cable industry, which already has wired virtually the entire country for broadband, should be required to become a common carrier, so others can usurp the privately funded and built infrastructure. Another variation is that the government should spend its money, particularly at the local level, on building competitive (usually WiFi) systems. Still others bemoan the current political leadership for losing the "race" and recommend, clearly with little technical understanding, that the "solution" is to finance fiber optic construction, as though somehow fiber is the miracle ingredient that will launch us "ahead." In almost all cases, whether it is someone wanting to make political points, sell a book, write newspaper columns, lobby for government funds to build fiber or WiFi, or, indeed, change the spectrum policy of the United States, the arguments being used are not even well thought-out rhetoric and they are only repeated because no one is challenging them. Well, the time has come. Next week we will look at the numbers being bandied about, and what they might (or might not) mean. Then, thanks to a recent trip I took to Japan and South Korea to talk to telecommunications leaders, we will explore the actual policy decisions that were made there, and whether they have any applicability to our situation. Meanwhile, I plan to be in Ireland for the next two weeks exploring some misunderstandings I suspect exist about the pubs there. I look forward to engaging in the dialogue when I return.

The Daily


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