Not many hours go by in Washington these days without talk of broadband policy, and this week was no different. At the National Press Club, the Phoenix Center for Advanced Legal & Economic Public Policy Studies released their “Broadband Adoption Index” (or BAI), their methodology to provide a way to evaluate the value of broadband to society. The BAI demonstrates how the benefits of different broadband technologies can be examined and compared. The BAI doesn’t just count actual connections, it looks at the “value consumers and society get from adopting various broadband technologies.”
For example, in some countries around the world, mobile or cell phone connections are extremely valuable to those populations. In remote places where families may not own or have access to personal computers, a cell phone connection is a useful and vital link to the world. Alternatively, a cell phone connection in a typical American city may be valued much differently than the current 15Mbps cable connection that is currently available in that neighborhood.
The impetus behind the new index is because broadband adoption’s value is currently not weighed and the organization most cited for worldwide broadband data — the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development’s (OECD) – relies on a flawed methodology that doesn’t take into account household size, which is a huge factor when you compare the U.S. to most other countries.
Problems with OECD rankings are nothing new. In fact, we’ve talked about issues with that data and U.S. broadband ranking a few times in the past [The Trouble with Broadband Deployment Statistics, All Things Being Equal, Japanese Broadband, and Getting America Connected]. The Phoenix Center contends that their BAI can be a more useful tool since it looks at worldwide broadband adoption rates, rather than the broadband connections per capita OECD uses.
So, how can the BAI useful in a policy arena? First, the Center mentions the importance of setting targets for broadband adoption and deployment as a nation. Without a target, how will be know when we’ve achieved success? Is success for the U.S. when high-speed broadband is available to 100 percent of the population? Or, is success when 100 percent of the population utilizes broadband technology? The report also notes that the government has not set a target, so until they do, it will be difficult to measure success, especially in light of the $7 billion in stimulus funds that have been dedicated to broadband.
The Phoenix Center also hopes policymakers look beyond the OECD data and its limitations. As they note in the executive summary of the report, merely comparing the per-capita adoption rates for two countries with differing demographics, economies, and population density “provides little information relevant to broadband policy.”
While there are many voices talking about broadband policy and strategy, most universally agree a strong broadband infrastructure here in the U.S. is of deep importance for future economic growth, health care, education and jobs. Cable has already played an important role in broadband deployment thus far, wiring 92 percent of U.S. households for high-speed Internet access.
As the government moves closer to granting its broadband stimulus funds, we’ve outlined what we think should be the guiding principles [video, blog post, white paper]. And we’ve also filed comments in the FCC’s proceeding to craft a national broadband plan, which is scheduled for a early 2010 delivery.