We noticed with appreciation on Tuesday that Wal*Mart announced it is entered the ranks of broadband providers (re-sellers, actually). This should be a very good thing for consumers and the broadband marketplace.
As we evangelize to exhaustion at the Internet Innovation Alliance, broadband (high speed internet connections) is transforming our economy and society, improving how Americans work, live, learn and play. Broadband is enabling new ways of doing business and creating opportunities for transformation in health care, energy efficiency, education and entrepreneurship, among other sectors of the global economy. And the world is responding to the opportunities, with many individuals and businesses adopting broadband rapidly and creating new applications and content daily, most intriguingly new video content.
The challenges to a successful broadband future include expanding access (to the other half of our population that does not yet have broadband or even dial-up), ensuring robust competition (to keep prices low and application innovation rapid), and encouraging aggressive investment (of the hundreds of billions of private dollars of needed to maintain an infrastructure that is up to the task of handling the traffic reliably, securely and in real-time).
If any company can help address these challenges, it is Wal*Mart. Though later to the broadband game than Best Buy, Wal*Mart brings a scale and reach that is unequaled - more than 4,000 Wal*Mart and Sam’s Club Stores in all 50 states, serving over 127 million customers each week. As it is doing with prescription drugs and basic health services, Wal*Mart brings competition to the marketplace that lowers prices and forces others to innovate to stay ahead. As it is doing with sustainability practices and technologies such as RFID, Wal*Mart helps make markets and paves the way for others to follow better business practices around the world. Lastly, Wal*Mart shoppers and its 1.3 million employees include slices of our society that have been slower to adopt broadband, either due to price or lack of perceived value, and the education that accompanies sales will help expand awareness and interest.
It is, of course, unlikely that Wal*Mart ultimately emerges as the leading provider or reseller of broadband in America. But as it has done for digital products from software to PCs to PDAs, Wal*Mart’s entry into markets ensure the competition, investment and innovation so essential to future success. This should put a yellow smiley face on anyone rooting for broadband’s success.