Sunday, April 21, 2013

The Gigabit Future

To maintain U.S. leadership in innovation, we need to keep pushing for faster broadband networks, and we need a critical mass of innovation hubs that offer homes and businesses access to gigabit broadband. This would bring supercomputing power to Internet users, and would drive inventions we can only barely anticipate.

We’ve already begun to see the promise of gigabit connectivity to drive innovation and investment in a handful of forward-looking U.S. communities.

Chattanooga, Tennessee built out a gigabit fiber network that has helped attract businesses like Amazon and Volkswagen, creating more than 3,700 local jobs.

In Kansas City, the Google Fiber initiative is bringing gigabit service to residential consumers, and startup tech companies have begun flocking to the area, spawning KC’s new nickname — the “Silicon Prairie.”

We see similar stories in communities as diverse as Cleveland and Lafayette, Louisiana.

Seeing this success, the mayors of Chicago, New York and Seattle have all come forward with plans to launch gigabit testbeds in their cities.

And the Gig.U initiative has already catalyzed over $200 million in private investment to build ultra-high-speed hubs in the communities of many leading research universities.

We need more of these gigabit testbeds to ensure there is a sufficient market in the U.S. for super-high-bandwidth applications and services. A critical mass of gigabit communities will spur innovation and investment.

Some broadband providers say the need for gigabit networks is overblown. They cite the lack of consumer demand for applications requiring gigabit speeds. One cable industry leader called the focus on top-end network speeds an “irrelevant exercise in bragging rights.”

But this seriously misreads what the U.S. needs to grow our economy and maintain our leadership in today’s global, innovation-driven economy. And it also overlooks the history of U.S. innovators to take advantage of increased network capacity.

Gigabit networks can enable genetic sequencing to treat cancer patients, immersive and creative software to support lifelong learning from home, and ways for small businesses to take advantage of Big Data.

Greater network speeds will certainly lead to unexpected new inventions. That’s been consistently true since the Internet began.

We need U.S. innovators to develop tomorrow’s technologies here, and gigabit testbeds will help ensure that the U.S. remains a magnet for the world’s greatest entrepreneurs.

Make no mistake, if the U.S. doesn’t continue to invest in our broadband infrastructure, somebody else will take the lead.

That’s why the FCC has been working for the past four years to promote the deployment of high-speed broadband networks. Our Broadband Acceleration Initiative has reduced barriers to network buildout by lowering the cost of stringing new fiber on utility poles and reducing wait times to get approval for new cell towers.

We proposed a national “Dig Once” initiative that encourages laying fiber conduit whenever roads are dug, which the President adopted in an Executive Order last year.

We’ve also transformed the Commission’s Universal Service Fund from a program designed to support phone networks into the Connect America Fund, the largest ever public investment in rural broadband – $45 billion over the next 10 years, including funding for high-speed broadband to anchor institutions like schools and hospitals.

Building on these efforts, I challenge broadband providers and local leaders to bring at least one gigabit testbed community to all 50 states by 2015. The FCC will actively engage with broadband providers and community leaders to help achieve this goal, including by launching a clearinghouse for best practices on speeding gigabit deployment.

America led the 20th century economy because we led the world in innovation. Leadership in innovation is even more important in today’s global economy. Ensuring the U.S. has a strategic bandwidth advantage – ultra-fast, high-capacity, ubiquitous broadband – is critical to our global competitiveness.

Our history provides a clear lesson about infrastructure: If we build it, innovation will come.

More information:
» Washington Post's Ideas@Innovations
» AT&T Labs-Research: Faster Than Google Fiber

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