In a recent article In Slate, part of a series where contributors suggest policy initiatives for the next administration, Prof. Tim Wu of Columbia University calls for, amongst other things, the creation of the post of national Broadband Czar.
Most people in technology will tell you that the
leading problem todayâ€”the one thing sinking all boats,
so to speakâ€”is the broadband last mile, the final
connection between people and the Internet. Since
2000, computers have become faster, hard drives
cheaper, and free e-mail better, but for the vast
majority of Americans, Internet access remains clunky.
Same goes for wireless broadband (cell phones with
good Internet access), which is arriving, but slowly
and expensively. These facts limit what everyone in
the tech and media industries can imagine as effective
new products. They are also beginning to put the
United States at a disadvantage as compared with
nations in Asia and Europe that have invested more.
It’s a daunting problem with a long history of both
public and private failure. Unlike, say, building a
better dating service, broadband is an infrastructure
problem that requires solutions akin to improving
roads or plumbing. National infrastructure policy is
tough, and, at its worst, Bush’s approach has borrowed
largely from Emperor Nero.
To start fixing things, the next president should
immediately announce a national broadband policy with
this simple goal: to put the United States back into
undisputed leadership in wireless and wire-line
broadband. But the question is how, and that’s where
things get complicated. Proposed fixes abound: pay
Verizon, AT&T, or Comcast to build it? Treat the
Internet’s pipes like the interstate highways, and
have the government build them? Use tax credits to
encourage consumers to buy their own fiber
connections? Sell property rights in spectrum or
create a “mesh” wireless commons?
No one really knows what the best answer is. That’s
why the next president should appoint a specialized
broadband czar to get after the problem. Right now,
broadband is no one’s responsibility, and the buck
keeps getting passed between industry, Congress, the
White House, and the FCC. The point of a czar would be
to make it someone’s job to figure out what it will
take to fix broadband.