Getting to Universal, Affordable Broadband

Getting to Universal, Affordable Broadband

“This country needs a national goal for broadband technology, for the spread of broadband technology. We ought to have a universal, affordable access for broadband technology by the year 2007, and then we ought to make sure as soon as possible thereafter, consumers have got plenty of choices when it comes to purchasing the broadband carrier. See, the more choices there are, the more the price will go down. And the more the price goes down, the more users there will be. And the more users there will be, the more likely it is America will stay on the competitive edge of world trade.”
-- President George W. Bush, March 26, 2004[1]

“I think we've met the goal.”
-- Acting NTIA Administrator Meredith Baker, November 2007[2]

On the eve of a missed national broadband goal, today the Benton Foundation releases Universal Affordable Broadband for All Americans, a report and roadmap for making broadband access as universal as telephones are today. The report calls for an aggressive new approach, a national broadband strategy, and efforts to modernize federal universal telephone service policies to help meet the challenges of connecting all Americans to broadband.

It’s now becoming abundantly clear that President Bush has yet to achieve his 2004 campaign promise for universal, affordable high-speed Internet connections by the year 2007. Nonetheless, as 2007 comes to a close, acting National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) head Meredith Baker has indicated the White House will soon release a report claiming broadband deployment is on track thanks to Bush administration policies.

The following can be attributed to Benton Chairman and CEO Charles Benton:

“It's time we put aside rhetoric, embrace reality, and embark on a concerted new effort to bring the benefits of broadband to all Americans. Claiming that our nation’s broadband deployment is on track when millions are disconnected and America is falling further behind is a little like standing on a flight deck and claiming mission accomplished. The facts just don’t support it:

According to a September 2007 Pew Internet & American Life Project phone survey, roughly half of all Americans don’t have broadband at home. Half is far from universal. Other reports suggest America has slipped from 1st to 4th to 15th among industrialized nations in broadband subscriptions per 100 inhabitants.

While it is clear the President’s goal hasn’t been met, America lacks the detailed data and strategy necessary to ensure American can retake our lead in the vital communication technology of our time. Broadband is now, undeniably, the essential communications medium of the 21st Century. Experts agree that universal broadband availability would not only unleash an estimated $500 billion in economic growth and more than 1.2 million high-wage jobs, but it could help bridge the digital divide and unleash a new wave of innovations, transforming almost every aspect of our lives.

In 2004, President Bush said, “It's important that we stay on the cutting edge of technological change, and one way to do so is to have a bold plan for broadband.” Today, the Benton Foundation is releasing a landmark report, calling for a bold new strategy for broadband, and helping to advance a vision and pragmatic policies that can catapult America forward. It's not just about restoring America’s Internet leadership, it's about putting America on a forward-looking trajectory to help more Americans take advantage of the power and potential that broadband can deliver. To restore the country’s Internet competitiveness and truly achieve a universal broadband goal, we must:

1) create a national broadband strategy with set benchmarks, deployment timetables, a commitment to demand drivers, and measurable thresholds;
2) develop federal policies to transition us from analog to fully digital communication technologies – making broadband based communication as universal as telephones are today; and
3) extend broadband's reach to those who can benefit most and harness its potential in order to boost education, reduce health care costs, encourage telecommuting, reduce greenhouse emissions, transform our emergency communication infrastructure, improve homeland security, and raise standards of living.

To do anything less leaves us ill-prepared to tackle the grand challenges that America faces over the horizon.

Universal Affordable Broadband for All Americans available at

Jim Kohlenberger is a technology and telecommunications policy expert with more than 15 years of Washington policymaking experience. He spent eight years in the White House where he helped formulate U.S. policy on technology, telecommunications, and the Internet. Specifically, he worked to help pass the Telecommunications Act of 1996, shape the administration's hands-off approach to the Internet and e-commerce, and spearheaded administration efforts to bridge the digital divide and connect every classroom to the Internet.

Charles Benton
Benton Foundation
1560 Sherman Ave
Evanston, IL 60201

Jim Kohlenberger
Senior Fellow
Benton Foundation
1625 K Street, NW 11th Floor
Washington DC 20006

[1] See White House release (
[2] Veigle, Anne. “Broadband Universal, Affordable, White House Report to Say.” Communications Daily. November 2?, 2007.