FutureWire - futurism and emerging technology

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Could Universal Broadband be a New Political Issue?

A 21st Century version of the "chicken in every pot" political rallying cry might be "broadband Internet in every home." House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) is unveiling a new Democratic "innovation agenda" that, among other things, aims to guarantee broadband Internet access for all Americans within five years.

The idea is not new; during last year's presidential race, President Bush proposed universal broadband by 2007. The proposal didn't gain as much attention as it should have -- and Bush's plan had few specifics -- but with the President's sagging poll numbers in mind, Republicans may revisit it during next year's election if the Democrats appear to be gaining traction with the issue.

Government support of technology can yield impressive dividends; without Uncle Sam's bankrolling, there likely would be no Internet. And with PCs now cheap enough so that nearly any American who wants one can afford one, the time might finally be right. But with every intriguing political proposal comes hard questions, such as, who will pay for it? Will access be completely free to users, or will the cost be subsidized? Can carriers handle the influx of millions of new users? What special interests will feel threatened enough by this proposal to fight it? What are the unforeseen technical challenges?

One powerful special-interest group that might balk at universal broadband is the television industry, which might worry that streaming content would disrupt their business models. But broadcasters don't see the Internet as much of a threat... yet... even though Internet services are beginning to offer "on demand" episodes of classic sitcoms and other TV shows.

Source: eWeek