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August 29, 2013

The Name Game



We're all familiar with the notion that "a rose, by any other name, would smell as sweet!" Shakespeare taught us that. But is broadband by any other name still broadband? Ironically, that becomes a significant question these days as the elbowing continues over regulation in this new electronic age.

The most recent survey by the well-respected Pew organization frames the issue well. They report that a little over 70 percent of US adults (18 and over) have a high-speed broadband connection at home. We're not talking about all the use at work, which results in even higher numbers, but at home. What's really interesting is that if you add smartphone wireless access the percentage goes up to 80 percent. That's pretty darn good for a technology that had barely gotten going at the turn of the century. Pew notes that only about 4 percent of US homes had what they characterized as broadband connections in 2001.

But now a question is raised as to whether the wireless broadband is really "high speed!" That's not because the question makes much sense, it's because it's being asked to protect the theory that broadband deployment (and the "digital divide") are still significant problems, and as such need governmental intervention. It's just silly.

Anyone walking down a city street today is at risk of being bumped into by someone staring at their phone instead of where they are going. Those folks clearly find their wireless broadband connection sufficient to do whatever it is they're doing. The concern over the "digital divide" has to do with income and race, but in both cases, the numbers equalize when wireless smartphones are included in the mix, as Pew did in its latest study. The bottom line is that broadband adoption has been proceeding remarkably well, and the volume of use is dramatically increasing. Pew notes that more than 50% of those still not "connected" say they just don't see any reason to!

So what's the issue? Why is there still such angst about broadband adoption? The answer, I fear, is pretty simple; if government entities like the FCC acknowledge that things are going well, then they don't have any justification to retain, or at least try to argue they have jurisdiction to impose regulations and maintain controls. So there's a built in bias to find a problem. In this case, that problem is getting harder and harder to find, so the solution is to keep changing the name of the purported "problem" and in that way keep control.

That's why we now see the focus change to "high speed," and it's predictable that the target speed will always increase to assure that a perceived "problem" remains. When "broadband" took over from "dial-up" that was the legitimate measure of progress, or so it seemed. The Pew studies and charts all used it. But now some are arguing that speed has to continually be ramped up because, after all, with more speed we can think of more things to do with this great technology, and we don't want anyone "left behind."

There are a host of problems, however, with that thinking. As noted before, a Ferrari goes a lot faster than a Ford, but both will get you where you need to go. For "government services," or communications, or distant learning, regular old "broadband" works just fine. "1 Gig" or whatever the next purported milestone is, just provides a continued excuse to constantly change the name so regulation can stay in the game.

ED NOTE: This column originally appeared in CableFAX Daily. Go here to subscribe.







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