Today I had the privilege of participating in a workshop convened by theFederal Communications Commission as part of its effort to develop a National Broadband Plan by early next year. Today’s session focused on how best to supply the greater bandwidth required by emerging applications and devices, which could deliver huge social and economic benefits in nearly every aspect of our lives – in education, healthcare, commerce, energy and government, to name a few.
I want to commend FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski and his colleagues for vigorously taking on this incredibly important and urgent challenge. Every 18 months, data storage capacities (driven by Moore’s law) are doubling, and devices and applications are quickly evolving to take advantage of the trend. Bandwidth available in homes is rising too, but more slowly. This discrepancy is already creating a bandwidth bottleneck, and the situation will get worse over time.
In the words of Amazon.com’s Chief Technology Officer, Werner Vogels, on his blog All Things Distributed, “No matter how much we have improved our network throughput in the past 10 years, our datasets have grown faster, and this is likely to be a pattern that will only accelerate in the coming years.” That is why the public and private sectors must work together to expand and take better advantage of our nation’s broadband capacity.
At stake is our nation’s ability to fully benefit from vital new applications and devices. E-learning, for example, has the potential to make education much more widely available and affordable. A recent studycommissioned by the U.S. Dept. of Education found that online learning can even be more effective than – and also can enhance the effectiveness of – face-to-face instruction. But rich, engaging, interactive e-learning requires bandwidth.
Likewise in healthcare, videoconferencing makes it possible for a family in a rural community in Iowa to receive medical consultation and treatment from a specialist in a Chicago hospital 200 miles away.
Reuters recently reported on the first American recipient of a pacemaker that her doctors can monitor remotely via wireless networks. Such life-saving breakthroughs require more bandwidth.
Let’s also not forget social networking, interactive entertainment, and music and video services that are being developed to deliver richer online experiences to consumers. Microsoft, for example, is working on a gaming and entertainment experience – dubbed Project Natal – that will enable users to control and interact with Xbox 360 without touching a game controller. With an innovative camera peripheral, users will be able to play games, video chat, enjoy their favorite media, and participate in new interactive forms of entertainment using gestures, spoken commands, or by presenting objects and images. Higher-bandwidth and low-latency connectivity are critical to ensuring that consumers can fully enjoy these kinds of entertainment devices and applications.
It’s vital that our country pursues advanced broadband solutions in both wireline and wireless technologies. Wireless generally offers affordability, mobility and portability, while wireline broadband offerings provide unmatched speeds. The two are complementary, and broadband policy should take an integrated view towards enabling consumers to leverage both high-speed and mobile connectivity.
A first priority for the FCC should be to drive wireline capacity of at least 100 megabits per second to schools, libraries and healthcare facilities. This level of throughput, in addition to supporting narrowband applications like e-mail, Web surfing and search, will enable modest amounts of video streaming, cloud-based storage, and the movement of larger files (e.g., high-resolution images). In wireless, policymakers must make more spectrum available for both licensed and unlicensed uses, and promote technologies such as software-defined radios – smart communications systems that will enable the next generation of applications by using available spectrum more efficiently.
Developing a nationwide, high-capacity, future-proof broadband network is a must if we want America to lead the world in technological innovations and strong economic opportunity for all citizens.