Yesterday’s NYT story on INSEAD’s assessment of global broadband deployment attempts to offer some balance to the too-often hysterical debate over American broadband promise and prowess. By looking at 68 variables, INSEAD purports to help policy makers and community leaders understand the picture more completely than other, allegedly narrower assessments. We expect the usual suspects to praise INSEAD’s work, and the usual suspects to condemn it. We do neither.
We draw three key lessons from this and the many other studies that are out there.
First, the sky is not falling. America is not inches away from Internet banana republic status, eating South Koreans’ digital dust and longingly lusting after Canadian connections. We have seen solid deployment and adoption of broadband in America so far, though we have quite far to go. Market failures surely persist, but they are neither prevalent nor overwhelming.
Second, the opportunities of national broadband deployment are immense and will be a key element determining our continued competitiveness in the global economy. While INSEAD suggests that we have made much progress, we still have a long way from what is surely our goal: universal availability and adoption of truly high speed connections. And we must also prepare for new killer applications and the changing ways we’re using the internet - think video. This exponential explosion of digital content - the so-called exflood - could mean that today’s broadband is tomorrow’s traffic jam.
Third, policy matters. The private sector has made impressive progress in creating and deploying ever-faster networks, and competitive markets must continue to lead. But there is an important role for government, particularly as we seek to address the gaps in deployment and adoption so often defined by demographics and geography.
It is time for policy makers to work with industry leaders on a national broadband strategy, one that complements the best of the marketplace with the best policies for innovation, competition and investment. Americans should neither feel complacency from INSEAD’s report nor consternation from more dour global assessments, but rather resolve. Distance travelled does not negate distance remaining. With the opportunity so great, it is time to leverage our successes and address any market failures.