The Future of American Broadband

If you’re an avid reader of Tom’s Guide and Tom’s Hardware, chances are you’re already hooked into a broadband internet connection of some sort, whether that’s  Cable or DSL in the home or a mobile broadband network like AT&T or Verizon. This isn’t much of a surprise, since roughly 200 million people (two-thirds of the American population), have broadband internet coming into their homes. Consumer broadband has existed for the better part of two decades. Because of that, the FCC thinks--and rightfully so--that this number is pretty low for a country that wants to be at the forefront of technology at all times.

As of June 2009, America ranked 20th in household broadband penetration, at 60 percent. This put the US well behind countries like the UK (67%), Canada (76%), and South Korea (95%). The low broadband numbers in the US affect more people than just Joe consumer, too; Health care and public education are also suffering greatly due to a lack of deep broadband coverage. Now that medical records are digital, you need a broadband infrastructure that can properly support communication between doctors, hospitals, and patients. And while most schools are connected to the Internet, connections in most public schools aren’t nearly as robust as they should be. Furthermore, many schools are still without some form of wireless connectivity, so computers are still chained to desks in the computer lab or library.

In early 2009, the FCC was tasked by Congress with creating a National Broadband Plan, one that would not only ensure broadband access to all citizens, but one that would change several key aspects of infrastructure throughout the country. The National Broadband Plan, or NBP, looks to take broadband to another level in the United States, ensuring lightning-fast connectivity for those who want or desperately need it.

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  • JohnnyLucky
    The big question is whether the industry is willing or able to execute the plan.
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  • IzzyCraft
    As long as it goes by faster then it normally would have i'm fine with it, although i'm not one to think too highly of the fcc policies.
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  • heroictofu
    I think this is a good thing and a step in the right direction. But with the talk of schools and hospitals receiving 1gbps connections, hopefully the government will also fund said schools and hospitals with the necessary computer equipment to take advantage of it.
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  • randomizer
    Any time a Government plans a nation-wide project in a large country, you know it won't work right.
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  • ilojik
    It's about time the government stepped in to "websidize" the states. I just got back from Korea - that place puts us to shame. They even had broadband in their public restrooms.
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  • Anonymous
    You can't mandate this, they tried. Remember that big 20 billion dollar recovery package? Money was in there to entice ISPs to expand coverage to areas that were weak. What happened? No one even touched the money because they didn't want to spend one million dollars laying cable to get 20 new customers. Same thing will happen here. Love America and it's free enterprise but at the same time unless the govt sets up it's own ISP it can't force others to do this plan.
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  • quantumrand
    geeker342You can't mandate this, they tried. Remember that big 20 billion dollar recovery package? Money was in there to entice ISPs to expand coverage to areas that were weak. What happened? No one even touched the money because they didn't want to spend one million dollars laying cable to get 20 new customers. Same thing will happen here. Love America and it's free enterprise but at the same time unless the govt sets up it's own ISP it can't force others to do this plan.



    With the enhancements of wireless technology, they won't need to lay millions of dollars of wire. They'll just have to build a strong enough backbone to their wireless hubs. And for the super isolated people, the government could always subsidize satelite internet.
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  • Anonymous
    The wireless option is not all it's cracked up to be. I am a rural customer with point-to-point wireless Internet access. Speeds have not changed from the default 768K/256K in 7 years. This service costs $70/month, which on a bandwidth-basis is 4 times the national average. The ISP is a multi-state entity and has a monopoly on local elevated transmission sites (mostly grain elevators). They have a large customer base and a high adoption rate (only competition is dial-up and satellite, which has too much latency for all but simple tasks). Despite heavy consumer complaints, they have done nothing to increase speeds or invest in the infrastructure needed to do so. We've gone up to 10 weeks without service due to breakdowns (they did offer a refund). Their business model is to milk the existing technology for as long as they possibly can. Recently, they altered speeds to 1000K/200K (raised download and lowered upload), in an effort to increase service. This is a pathetic solution. The observed speeds are usually far less. As customer demand rises, they are very slow to increase their backhaul access, taking months or even years to do so. The result is very significant congestion.

    Unless something happens to shake up the status quo, this will never change. Hopefully if the government provides funds, it will foster competition and the adoption of more modern technologies. The sad truth is that most ISPs are not interested in improving their services, unless forced to by outside factors. Market forces may provide those factors in urban areas with several choices, but rural areas will be left in the dark ages. We can only hope the government's new plan will help..
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  • idisarmu
    Where I live (though this is Canada), we get 1.5mbps down, 512k up for $45 per month. I would be quite happy with 5 down, 1 up for $40-50.... for a while at least.
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  • micky_lund
    in aus, we get like 0.25mbps down, 0.05mbps up, and thats like $30 per month. you can get better deals, but the price goes up steeply enough.
    but in college, im getting 85mbps down, 45mbps up, and only paying for quota, so its epic. imagine what 100,50 would be :D
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  • aethm
    It would be nice but I don't see it happening for a while. This country is too large and I don't see the established monopolistic ISP's wanting anything to change.
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  • victomofreality
    National Digital Literacy Corps sounds like a great idea! I've worked in a few call centers and the number of issues that could be solved without assistance is staggering... some people need their routers configured multiple times a month because they don't even understand what the reset button is after they've hit it before!
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  • touchdowntexas13
    I'm all for improving the overall speed and infrastructure of our broadband here in the US. Though I still don't think that broadband is a "right", but a privilege that you pay for if you can afford it. If not, then you make do with what you have.

    I'm also not too big on improving the internet speed in schools (except at the university/college level). My high school had a pretty slow internet speed, but it didn't hinder my education in the slightest. Why do they need fast internet when all students SHOULD be doing is going through documents trying to do their tiny bit of research? My same thought applies to the wireless connections. We had started getting wireless connectivity when I graduated, but for what? There is no need to have internet access in the class room. It's only a distraction. The computer labs are FINE.

    Now I am definitely fine with college students having the above options, but college is a very different atmosphere requiring very different internet needs.
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  • dertechie
    ilojikIt's about time the government stepped in to "websidize" the states. I just got back from Korea - that place puts us to shame. They even had broadband in their public restrooms.


    Korea and Japan have hilariously high population densities, which translates into a lot less cable to lay (though the mountains and Japan's random earthquakes do hinder things). Combined they have about half the population of the US, but it would cost far more than twice as much for the US to reach the level of broadband they have, simply because of how scattered we are (last mile costs suck). The cost to fully wire Korea with Fast Ethernet speeds (what they have now) would be comparable to a project to fully wire up California with Fast Ethernet, if you include the crazy legislators messing with the project for political reasons.
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  • confoundicator
    In Seattle I get about 4Mbps down 750 Kbs up (advertized as 7M down 800k up) for a little over $40 a month DSL.
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  • Anonymous
    I agree with pokabur. It shouldn't be the NBP's responsibility to do this, they should make it so that the free market can do this. Damn government getting too much control.
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  • K_M82
    i always think government building internet infrastructure like government building a railway or power grid. the government always build those things because the initial investment to build those things is always too expensive for private enterprise. and once the infrastructure is build the private enterprise can rent that infrastructure.
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  • brendano257
    I think ISPs will be reluctant, and of course it will go somewhat over budget, but this is definitely necessary. Speeds for most rural places are deplorable and need to change, overall it should be worth the cost to the American public. I say bring it on :)

    I get 7Mb/s/512k/s which really is about 850K/60K, which is alright, but nothing like it could be.

    Where as I can pay 20$/m for a foreign seedbox that gives 100 Mb/s, or about 11MB/s which is fantastic for the price. America just needs to change, period.
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  • drakefyre
    How will this be paid for????
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  • dconnors
    DrakefyreHow will this be paid for????


    If everything goes according to plan, the sale of wireless spectrum (500 MHz) will fully fund the NBP, making it "cost neutral".

    -Devin
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