Sen. Durbin's broadband policy experiment

Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois has been conducting a novel experiment this week: a series of online discussions to get input from regular Americans on his upcoming universal broadband bill.

This is a brand new way of writing legislation, and it's fitting that Senator Durbin is trying it with a bill to bring high speed Internet to all. This issue touches every American, because universal broadband is essential for a strong economy and equal opportunity.

The dismal state of high speed Internet access in the U.S. is costing us in so many ways. As Senator Durbin said,

[B]roadband policy is one of the most important public policy issues today. Frankly, America does not have a national broadband strategy, and we are falling behind. That means our families don't have access to the best medical technologies, our students don't have access to the best educational opportunities, and our entrepreneurs are limited in the markets they can access.

Jeff Rechenbach, Executive Vice President of the Communications Workers of America, shared his thoughts, outlining the principles of the Speed Matters program and also discussing how we might build and pay for a universal system.

[A]s we turn to broadband, we face multiple challenges. The issue is not only affordability, but also build-out of high-speed networks, not only “first generation” broadband such as cable modems and DSL, but “second generation” high-capacity networks that can deliver 25 to 100 megabits per second (mbps) downstream like in Japan. This is an expensive proposition.

Rechenbach puts two policies at the top of his list: creating public-private partnerships in each state and Universal Service Fund (USF) reform.

We sometimes forget that it took public policy to ensure that (almost) all Americans had access to telephone service at a reasonable rate. After World War II, half of our population still did not subscribe to telephone service.

It is encouraging to see the interest and passion that Senator Durbin's experiment has aroused.  We are eager to see it translated into action through legislation.

Legislation 2.0: National Broadband Project (Open Left)

Speed Matters: CWA's Policy Proposal for Universal High Speed Internet

Towards Universal High Speed Internet: Public-Private Partnerships and Universal Service Reform