Broadband plays a critical role in economic development and opportunity around the world. The United States, however, lags behind other countries in terms of the number of citizens reached by internet infrastructure. The U.S. ranks fifteenth out of 34 Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development countries in wired broadband subscriptions per 100 inhabitants, according to December 2011 data.
“The freedom and openness of the Internet has enabled small businesses in dorm rooms and garages to grow into some of the most successful companies in the world,” Federal Communications Commission Chairman Julius Genachowski told Congress in a hearing July 18. Genachowski testified before the U.S. House Committee on Small Business about the commission’s ongoing efforts to encourage innovation and investment in broadband along with other administration officials from the National Telecommunications and Information Administration and Department of Agriculture.
Genachowski’s testimony comes during a week in which broadband is at the forefront in Washington, D.C. July 19, the FCC released its second report on consumer broadband performance in the U.S. The same day, the New America Foundation released a report entitled, “The Cost of Connectivity” comparing the cost of broadband in 25 cities around the world.
In recent years the FCC has significantly reformed rules and programs in an effort to expand broadband penetration across the United States. One of the most wide-reaching, the overhaul of the Universal Service Fund, aims to encourage deployments of high-speed internet access to underserved communities. Other moves, including the commission’s net neutrality rules, seek to maintain the openness of the internet and preserve the system that has facilitated some of the world’s most dynamic companies.
Competitive broadband markets, open internet protocols, and the speed of internet services make a big difference for startups. Competition creates incentives for providers to keep prices low, while high speeds create opportunities for consumers to harness products and services offered by innovative, young companies. Openness ensures a level playing field for internet platforms. Closing the broadband gap will create opportunities in communities that lack adequate broadband speeds across the U.S.
The New America Foundation report also takes a look at competition in other countries. Using Paris as a case study, researchers illustrate the impact of an “unbundling” policy undertaken in France to introduce competition to the state-owned monopoly France Telecom. New companies created competition and were able to offer services on the existing DSL infrastructure which brought down costs. Twelve years later, companies are laying new cables to “meet growing demand for faster speeds at low prices,” according to the report.
Startups aren’t limited to big cities like New York and San Francisco, a fact that was highlighted by Engine at Startup Day on the Hill last month. Broadband provides an opportunity for entrepreneurs to innovate and opens access to customers across the country and around the world. Efforts like those undertaken by Google in Kansas City to deploy next-generation fiber demonstrate the potential of even further advances in broadband technology boosting small business and startups.
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