Sunday, January 18, 2009

The U.S., Korea and Broadband

Almost on the eve of President Obama's inauguration Business Week has published an interesting article, entitled "Bring U.S. Broadband Up to Speed," and its recommendations are right on target.  As the sub-head notes, "For long term economic growth Obama's stimulus package should include a $10 billion to $15 billion investment in high speed communications infrastructure.  Quoting from the article:
"The U.S. desperately needs to catch up with global leaders in two areas of high-speed broadband communications. The first is extending the current world-class wired broadband service now used by big business, smaller companies, and consumers across America. The second is increasing the transmission speed and reach of wireless service to nearly everywhere in the nation. Achieving these two goals would bridge the digital divide between city and country and provide a powerful productivity tool to all sectors of society: private enterprise, nonprofit organizations and institutions, and every level of government."
The article goes on to note how companies in other countries are leveraging broadband and the internet to operate more efficiently and create game-changing advantages.  Australia, with territory nearly as large as the continental U.S. and a very similar population distribution, has wireless network speeds of 21 Mbps to cell phones, laptops, and other wireless devices on a mobile Internet that reaches 99% of the population.  Plans are to double Australia's network speeds to 42 Mbps in 2009, "enough bandwidth to download a two-hour movie to a laptop on a beach in four minutes."
Business Week could have just as well have elaborated on South Korea.  This country built its first digitally switched network in the 1980s.  The Public Switched Telephone Network was completed in 1987, just before the Seoul Olympics.  Improvements to that network continued until, in the early 1990s leaders here saw the need for building "information superhighways."  The Korea Information Infrastructure project from 1995-2005 laid down the most extensive fiber optic, atm-switched communications network in the world, allowing those who live here to enjoy fast internet service.  However, things did not stop there.  In South Korea, development and investment have been consistent and continuous since 1981!  Policymakers here and most people have come to appreciate the productivity advantages and possibilities brought by the information revolution.  Soon WiBro (Mobile WiMax) will be available throughout Korea, but that will not be the last stage of this revolution.  Ubiquitous computing and ambient intelligence will be prominent in the next phase of development.
It seems clear that the U.S. could benefit from Korea's example and that a strong government-industry partnership between the telecoms sectors of the two nations would be beneficial to both as Obama takes office.

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