The following excerpt from a U.S. Telecom research brief released in March 2013 provides substance to the argument that broadband plays an important role in the future expansion of the American economy.
“Broadband networks are critical enablers of productivity and growth enhancing innovation. As noted above, Marshall Poe describes the attributes of five historical communications media: speech, writing, print, audio-visual, and the Internet.
Among these, he identifies the Internet as especially powerful in generating economic activity, spillover effects, and novelty,another word for innovation. Steven Johnson, in “Where Good Ideas Come From,” offers an even
broader perspective on the role of what he calls “dense liquid networks” in the innovative process, from the formation of the first life forms in the so-called “primordial soup,” to the biodiversity of coral reefs, to the generation of novel ideas through neural networks, to the flourishing of civilization when humans settled in cities. Johnson argues—paraphrasing—that dense liquid networks enable increasingly large numbers of innovative agents to come into contact with one another, colliding and sharing ideas, rethinking and building on existing ideas, and exploring new combinations and possibilities.
Broadband networks are the essential fluid medium through which today’s information-based
innovative processes occur. Extensive broadband networks connect and make possible
interactions among individuals, businesses, academics, governments, connected computers and
other things, and the information generated by all of these. Broadband networks are an essential
enabler of the creation and diffusion of new ideas across the modern information-based
In the specific context of data-based innovation, promising technologies such as cloud
computing, RFID-enhanced logistics, smart electrical grids, electronic health records, social
media applications, and big data analytics all thrive in this context. Through the broadband
medium, applications are able to gather, process, and analyze information, and distribute useful
insights, products, and services. Such applications require the transmission of large and growing
volumes of data, to and from widely distributed network nodes, and increasingly in real-time.
Thus, continuous innovation and investment in broadband networks themselves will be necessary
to accommodate ever growing demand and to realize the potential productivity benefits so
essential to economic growth. Competitive investment by the private sector has generated
widespread benefits, bringing broadband to the vast majority of the country and accommodating
usage that grew by a factor of approximately 4,000 from 1996 to 2010. Providers have invested over a trillion dollars in the last decade and a half to provide the essential capacity, quality of service, and application-based innovations needed to accommodate ever increasing network demand from users at the so-called “edge.”
Policy must now aim to encourage the maximum levels of continuing investment by broadband
providers and the widespread adoption, by consumers and enterprises, of productivity-enhancing
applications. We can accomplish this in part by removing barriers to investment by broadband
providers, removing legacy burdens and encouraging the migration to Internet Protocol networks
for consumers and enterprises.”
US Telecom’s research tells me that as demand for the efficient and fast transfer of information increases, not only will more information consumers need to maintain their connections to the Internet, they will need networks that provide the capacity or bandwidth for maintaining high-speed connections. That can’t happen if there is the persistent threat of net neutrality petitions constantly being filed and slowing down the deployment of these networks.
Facilitating the flow of data at high-speed won’t happen if AT&T, Verizon, and other owners of legacy telephone networks are forced to spend finite resources on legacy telephone networks that cannot provide the capacity demanded by the businesses, researchers, academics, and consumers mentioned in the report.
The Federal Communications Commission will have to go beyond thinking about tweaking regulations. The FCC will have to start thinking about repealing regulations. Just as importantly, the FCC will have to look itself in the mirror and reconsider its overall mindset when it comes to innovation and the knowledge markets. The question should not be what regulations do we apply. The question should be how do we get the knowledge market to fly.