The US lags behind Japan and other Asian nations in broadband deployment and in cell-phone technology. Thomas Bleha blames Bush in this article for Foreign Affairs. While the reason the US has fallen behind other nations in these respects isn't necessarily all that simplistic, there's no escaping the fact that the country that conceived of and built the Internet is not getting access to that infrastructure into the hands of its citizens as well as other countries. The piece looks at some of the reasons that underlie the disparity. It's reasonable to wonder why it matters that residents of other developed countries can access information so much faster than Americans can. The answer's pretty straightforward: in an information economy, laggards lose.
FULL TEXT and source
Down to the WireThomas Bleha
From Foreign Affairs, May/June 2005
Summary: Once a leader in Internet innovation, the United States has fallen far behind Japan and other Asian states in deploying broadband and the latest mobile-phone technology. This lag will cost it dearly. By outdoing the United States, Japan and its neighbors are positioning themselves to be the first states to reap the benefits of the broadband era: economic growth, increased productivity, and a better quality of life.
Thomas Bleha, the recipient of an Abe Fellowship, is completing a book on the race for Internet leadership. Previously, he was a Foreign Service officer in Japan for eight years.
In the first three years of the Bush administration, the United States dropped from 4th to 13th place in global rankings of broadband Internet usage. Today, most U.S. homes can access only "basic" broadband, among the slowest, most expensive, and least reliable in the developed world, and the United States has fallen even further behind in mobile-phone-based Internet access. The lag is arguably the result of the Bush administration's failure to make a priority of developing these networks. In fact, the United States is the only industrialized state without an explicit national policy for promoting broadband.
It did not have to be this way. Until recently, the United States led the world in Internet development. In the late 1960s and 1970s, the Department of Defense's Advanced Research Projects Agency conceived of and then funded the Internet. In the 1980s, the National Science Foundation partially underwrote the university and college networks -- and the high-speed lines supporting them -- that extended the Internet across the nation. After the World Wide Web and mouse-driven browsers were developed in the early 1990s, the Internet was ready to take off. President Bill Clinton and Vice President Al Gore showed the way by promoting the Internet's commercialization, the National Infrastructure Initiative, the Telecommunications Act of 1996, and remarkable e-commerce, e-government, and e-education programs. The private sector did the work, but the government offered a clear vision and strong leadership that created a competitive playing field for early broadband providers. Even though these policies had their share of detractors -- who claimed that excessive hype was used to sell wasteful projects and even blamed the Clinton administration for the dot-com bust -- they kept the United States in the forefront of Internet innovation and deployment through the 1990s.
Things changed when the Bush administration took over in 2001 and set new priorities for the country: tax cuts, missile defense, and, months later, the war on terrorism. In the administration's first three years, President George W. Bush mentioned broadband just twice and only in passing. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) showed little interest in opening home telephone lines to outside competitors to drive down broadband prices and increase demand.