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Atkinson Sheds Light on Need for National Broadband Policy

Framing a National Broadband PolicyTelecom circles in Washington are positively buzzing with the release of Dr. Robert Atkinson’s paper Framing a National Broadband Policy (PDF). Atkinson is the President of Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, a think tank based in Washington, DC.

In his paper, Atkinson sheds some light on the sometimes confusing rankings regarding the United States’ broadband position relative to other countries. Although it is possible to nitpick some of the rankings, the conclusion that Atkinson reaches is that the U.S. is not as competitive as it could be in this regard, and that there are real and compelling reasons for us to focus on broadband deployment.

Those of you who attended the session “All (Telecommunications) Politics is Local” at ALA’s midwinter conference are already familiar with this issue. In that session, Office for Information Technology Policy (OITP) consultant John Windhausen drew on some of these statistics to make the argument that we must focus on broadband at the national level. (Please see Windhausen’s PowerPoint presentation for more information.)

In his paper, Atkinson does an excellent job of not only pointing out the U.S.’s less than optimal world rankings, but also debunking some of the common reasons given for our poor performance. Furthermore, Atkinson illustrates the reasons why market forces will not be enough to address the broadband issue in the U.S., and why we need a national broadband policy. He also describes some of the positive externalities that will result from increased broadband deployment.

From the library perspective, Atkinson’s arguments are very good. In fact, the paper takes many of the positions that ALA has on these issues (see ALA’s filing with the FCC from May 2007). One area that we would like to see receive more attention — in this paper and in the broadband debate in general — is to address broadband deployment not only as a residential service, but as a service to libraries as providers of public access to the Internet. Anyone who has ever visited a public library during peak hours and seen the line of people waiting to access the public terminals will attest to the vital role libraries play in helping all people take full advantage of E-government, employment, and educational services in the digital world.

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Jacob Roberts is the communications specialist for the ALA Washington Office.

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