Broadband Access Challenges and Progress

Last year, in March, President Obama gave a speech that featured some of my work, although he did not give me a shoutout by name.

He quietly announced that 98 percent of Americans now have access to fourth-generation mobile broadband.

This goal had been set years earlier, in 2011, and was based in large part on the findings of President Obama’s National Broadband Taskforce, which I had the pleasure of serving on.

Based on my experiences on the Broadband Taskforce, I have a good perspective on this accomplishment and I am happy that I played a small role in getting our nation to this impressive level of broadband availability.

In general, most of us do not fully understand the national and global challenges that arise when endeavoring to give as many people as possible access to good, reliable Internet connectivity.

Back in 2009, my Taskforce team looked extensively at broadband plans from around the world. We got a good sense for what was working and what was not working for other countries.

We also did an extensive analysis of how the FCC licenses various communications services. Anyone who has worked on expanding broadband availability knows that the approach to licensing is very important.

These efforts informed the national broadband strategy, and they have made it possible to connect millions of Americans to high-speed wireless Internet.

Universal Broadband Availability Changes Everything

To say that we’ve come a long way is a massive understatement.

We’ve gone from a time when it was very expensive and difficult to make a phone call to somebody in another country to a point where, as long as both parties have Internet connectivity, it’s easy and it’s free because we can connect with a video chat or with a free VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) service.

Beyond simple communications, we know that Internet connectivity is transforming the world as we know it in several other important dimensions.

Through online offerings like Coursera, a smart kid in a poor country who does not have access to an affordable good university can take free college courses online, taught by professors at top universities like Stanford, Pennsylvania State University, Wesleyan, and Yale. Wow.

This is the kind of thing that can create a more peaceful and prosperous world. But it is all contingent on universal broadband availability.

There are countless other ways in which access to broadband Internet access is changing the world and creating new opportunities, but, in the United States, many of us take broadband availability for granted.

Unfortunately, in parts of the United States and around the globe many people still don’t have affordable Internet service.

Those who live in some rural areas of the United States, in places like Cuba and in a host of other remote locations around the globe are starved of opportunity to fully participate in the new world economy that is powered in large part by the Internet.

How We Got the Job Done

What was most impressive about our reaching the goal of 98 percent access to mobile broadband is that we achieved this objective two years ahead of schedule. The initial goal was to get this connectivity in place by 2017 and we hit that milestone in 2015 instead. How many government initiatives are successfully executed two years ahead of schedule? Not many!

To my mind, the key to success was getting wireless spectrum experts and broadband availability experts like myself involved, as well as challenging the business community in general to step up and help.

It was a great example of how public-private partnerships can yield tremendous results for all citizens. As a nation, we invested private funds and taxpayer money — more than $7 billion of Recovery Act funding — to improve broadband connectivity in underserved areas. In the end, we deployed or upgraded over 174,000 miles of high-speed broadband infrastructure.

I had the honor of working with many talented individuals on this effort, and now, years later, I am very happy to have engaged in this public service work, something that, sadly, my current role as the CEO of a fast-growth tech company does not give me the time to do.

Broadband Availability Challenges Continue

Of course, with respect to broadband availability, the work continues on. Nobody is resting on the laurels of having improved mobile broadband access across the country. When we look at broadband statistics regarding who has access to wired broadband connection with download speeds of at least 25 Mbps and how many citizens have access to speeds of 100 Mbps or more, we know that there is more to be done. To empower the country to fully benefit from the Internet, broadband must be ubiquitous and affordable.

It must also be safe and secure, which is in part fueling my current passion for NetSfere, our secure enterprise messaging offering that is based on my company’s expertise in handling over a trillion text messages each year.

Today, the Broadband Opportunity Council is the current public-private group that is working on the next set of objectives, building on the work that my colleagues and I kicked off with the National Broadband Taskforce.

I am confident that they too will succeed in their goals, and I applaud every individual and company that is participating in this noble charter.

Earlier in this article, I mentioned that world peace and prosperity depend on universal broadband access. There is no better solution to global geopolitical tensions than giving each person on this planet the opportunity to learn, to work, to earn and to support their family.

For me, broadband availability is the key driver of this promising and critically important opportunity, and it’s a subject I will be writing about from time to time here.

Soon, for example, I will weigh in with an expert perspective on the “No Rate Regulation of Broadband Internet Access Act,” which intends to prevent the FCC from regulating rates charged for Internet service. As time permits, I’ll write about net neutrality, wireless spectrum auctions and many other telecom trends.

If you have questions or if you are a journalist in need of a broadband availability expert who can comment on the latest public and private sector telecom initiatives, please get in touch.

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