Three weeks ago, President Bush made a lofty promise about the future of broadband technology in the United States, saying his administration would work to ensure that homes across America are broadband-enabled by 2007. Bush's comments bring to mind the work the government did in the early part of the 20th century to ensure that all homes had access to phone service. In those days, Theodore Vail, then head of AT&T, struck a deal whereby government investment sped the delivery of phone connectivity to homes. In return, the U.S. government gained the opportunity to tax the lines.
There's no doubt that the revenue received from telephone service taxes has been a cash cow for the government. But there was an underlying benefit: The government established phone connections as a baseline technology that all U.S. citizens needed to have. That helped put the United States on the cutting edge of the technology landscape.
Now, by investing in broadband connectivity, the U.S. is saying that having a DSL, cable or other broadband link is a must-have for all Americans. The administration is also looking to propel the United States back into a technology leadership role.
But while it makes for a nice campaign promise, Bush's broadband vision will not be easy to achieve. In the early 20th century, multiple carriers didn't exist; today, the broadband sector is filled with service options. Currently, DSL and cable modem technology rule broadband; but in a few years, Wi-Fi, WiMAX, first-mile copper Ethernet and passive-optical networks will provide new connectivity options for consumers.
So, which technology will the administration support? If the Bush team backs either DSL or cable, one set of operators will get left in the dust, and innovations like PONs, WiMAX and public wireless LANs may never come to fruition.
A better option would be not to pick a technology at all. Instead, the administration should consider easing up on the tax regulations that have hindered the rollout of broadband connectivity. That would encourage broadband deployment and innovation without leaving existing operators in the lurch.
Robert Keenan is editor in chief of CommsDesign.com, an EE Times Network Web site.