Information backroads

GCN Insider | U.S. cities, once hot to invest in municipal Wi-Fi projects, are now backing off

What's wrong with this picture?

U.S. cities, once hot to invest in municipal Wi-Fi projects, are now backing off. Earthlink, a major Internet service provider, announced in August that it was
reducing its investments in municipal Wi-Fi.

At the same time, as noted in a recent Washington Post article, Japan is delivering Internet connections to its businesses and citizens that are as much as 30 times as fast as those in the United States and at less cost. As a result, the Japanese are able to deliver high-definition teleconferencing for hospitals and business, not to mention T.V. to consumers.

So why is the birthplace of the Internet losing its edge?

There are, of course, a lot of reasons ' some historical and some matters of policy. Japan is a smaller society, which makes it arguably easier to implement coordinated adoption of technologies. And its communications infrastructure is newer ' thanks in no small part to the American bombing campaigns during World War II that wiped out much of the country's older copper wiring.

But much of the blame has to be placed on federal policy-makers. In the 1950s and 1960s, the federal government devoted large amounts of money to developing the Interstate Highway System. In the ensuing decades, that system gave U.S. companies the enormous competitive advantage of access to fast and inexpensive transportation for their raw materials and finished products.

When it comes to the Internet, however, the federal government has in recent years adopted a hands-off approach. Indeed, according to recent reports, legislators even have a difficult time finding out just how bad the situation is.

A bill introduced by Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii) ' the Broadband Data Improvement Act ' would require changes in the way the Federal Communications Commission measures Americans access to broadband services. Currently, services qualify as broadband if they deliver a relatively glacial transfer rate of 200 kilobits/sec. And if a ZIP code has a single customer receiving that level of service the entire area is considered served.

Broadband communications are fast becoming the great economic engine of our time, Inouye told reporters. The first step toward securing broadband for all Americans is getting better broadband data.

About the Author

Patrick Marshall is a freelance technology writer for GCN.

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