Broadband in Every Home
With our nation's unemployment rate still stubbornly close to post-World War II highs, it's clear that government spending, tax policy tweaks and job programs alone will not create all the new jobs Americans need. Rather than hoping for an economic miracle, U.S. policymakers and corporate CEOs should take a page from our economic history and build the high-tech Internet infrastructure that could get America's job-creation engine running again.
The facts are simple: Every economic boom in modern times has coincided with the introduction of new or greatly improved technology. Radio and better rail transportation touched off a major expansion in the 1920s, while air conditioning, much-improved cars and interstate highways helped fuel a long period of prosperity in the 1950s and 1960s. The rapid economic growth of the 1980s and 1990s, likewise, stemmed partly from the widespread adoption of personal computers and the first-generation Internet.
Now, a forthcoming national broadband plan from the Federal Communications Commission will help lay the groundwork for a high-speed Internet connection--the minimum needed to experience most modern Web sites--in every American home. And, if history is a good guide, deploying broadband on a large scale will supercharge our nation's economy by creating jobs directly, improving how just about every industry functions and opening up new educational opportunities for all Americans.
To begin with, simply investing in a better, faster, more accessible Internet will create jobs on its own. Internet companies already employ 1.2 million Americans--more than farming or auto manufacturing. An Internet that served more people with more types of services could likely generate twice as many jobs.
Additionally, an improved Internet that reaches every American would provide a boon for companies in virtually every economic sector. Faster, more pervasive Internet would make it easier for retailers to track inventory, airlines to sell seats, tourist destinations to attract visitors and factories to order new components. Like roads, rails and electrical lines, the Internet is a key piece of infrastructure that just about everyone uses in some way. Improving its efficiency and reach could improve the efficiency and reach of just about every other industry.
A better Internet would also educate a next-generation workforce for America. Even with unemployment near record highs, the information and communications technology industry still has problems finding skilled workers. Particularly at the community college level, current educational institutions have too few effective ways of teaching many of the skills employers need. Faster Internet connections would make it much easier to deliver a wide range of educational experiences that current technology simply can't handle.
Two thirds of low-income households currently don't have a high-speed Internet connection. As a result, many of the people who could benefit most from a better system for delivering new educational opportunities can't access it. Providing more people with broadband Internet connections will make it easier for them to search for jobs, learn new skills and start entrepreneurial ventures, while pushing the U.S. into the top echelon of countries with widespread next-generation mobile and fixed wireless (and wired) capabilities by 2015.
Congress, the Obama administration and the FCC have already done important work in sparking a conversation on the need to bring broadband Internet to all Americans. While there will likely be aspects of the FCC's plan that are problematic, the vision--high-speed broadband Internet in every household--makes a lot of sense. Regarded and executed properly, it can and should serve as a blueprint for creating jobs and sustaining economic growth for decades to come.
Dean Garfield is president and CEO of the Information Technology Industry Council.