Benton Foundation: U.S. Falling Behind

Yet another study shows that other countries are pulling ahead of America when it comes to high-speed Internet access.

As reported in Broadcasting and Cable Magazine, the Benton Foundation, a non-profit research group focused on communications, has released two papers on this issue. The experts behind these studies contend that European countries are reaping the benefits of public-private partnerships, competition, and concrete national policies. As a result, the movement towards universal high-speed Internet access is advancing in Europe in ways it just isn't here.

These studies come on the heels of two others we've recently covered. The Organization for Economic Development and Cooperation and the World Economic Forum have both stated recently that countries in Europe are outpacing the U.S. when it comes to expanding high-speed Internet access.

The first paper, by Penn State's Prof. Amit Schejcter, asks what the U.S. can learn from Europe's successes. Schejcter critiques what he describes as U.S. "disregard" as compared to European focus on the question of Internet deployment. Says Schejcter:

[T]he Europeans may be on the way to taking a more innovative and effective approach to what was once considered a badge of pride of the U.S. telecommunications policy, universal service, by considering the adoption of a universal broadband goal, thus once more adopting an American concept and perfecting it to serve up-to-date policy goals.

Schejcter's conclusion is that U.S. policy is too focused on providers, rather than consumers. A serious national policy requires focusing on Internet access as a public good in itself, not simply an industry defined by its constituent corporations. In particular, Schejcter points to the importance of setting national goals for Internet penetration, as European nations have done.

The second paper, by Penn State's Krishna Jayakar and Indiana University's Harmeet Sawhney, examines the Internet deployment strategies of nations around the world, looking for a way to synthesize the most successful features of each. The authors point to the importance of strong, proactive Internet policies to promote innovation and economic growth. Synthesizing other studies of this issue, they say:

Universal access in the emerging information economy is not just a social ideal or a redistributive tool, but an economic imperative with consequences for job creation, international competitiveness and individual empowerment. [...] we cannot afford to apply universal service interventions as a corrective or a remedy in the late stages of broadband diffusion: instead, the objective of government policy has to be to intervene in a manner that fosters and drives broadband diffusion.

We agree with these scholars that the U.S. must work to stay competitive in the world economy, and that a coherent, comprehensive Internet strategy is essential to making that possible. These serious, well-researched studies are a valuable addition to the growing consensus that the U.S. must have a national high-speed Internet policy.

Broadcasting and Cable Magazine

Benton Foundation

Prof. Schejter

Profs. Jayakar and Sawhney