In 2000, eight million Americans had access to broadband at home. Today, around 200 million Americans have access. What do you think accounts for this astonishing 25-fold increase in this market — the government or the private sector?
I think we both know the answer.
For more than a decade, politicians have pandered and promised to bring high-speed broadband to rural parts of America. While they were postulating, the private sector was actually building the infrastructure to carry this technology.
Today we're faced with a similar scenario. In his 2011 State of the Union address, President Barack Obama announced his goal to bring high-speed wireless broadband access to 98 percent of Americans within the next five years. This investment would be in addition to the billions of dollars that the federal government spent from the 2009 stimulus bill to expand access to broadband Internet.
The good news for federal taxpayers, who are already facing a $1.4 trillion budget deficit for this fiscal year alone, is that the Obama Administration could nearly reach its goal with a stroke of a pen, and without a blank check from the U.S. Treasury.
In March, AT&T announced plans to merge with T-Mobile. As part of the agreement that would join the two companies, AT&T promised to invest an additional $8 billion in its 4G LTE network, which already brings high-speed wireless Internet access (the very type of access the President promised) to millions of Americans. This additional investment would extend AT&T's network over one million additional miles and to an additional 55 million Americans. Once the network is completed about seven years from now, more than 97 percent of Americans could have access to high-speed wireless broadband.
That's right about 97 percent of Americans would have access to broadband Internet -- nearly reaching President Obama's stated goal of expanding access to 98 percent of Americans.
As someone who has owned a small business, I understand how important it is to have access to cutting edge technology. Smaller companies have always operated at smaller margins; their operators have always been more thinly stretched than business owners who employ hundreds or thousands of personnel. Keeping up in a bad and increasingly globalized economy means Georgia's entrepreneurs are strapped even more for time and for cash. They need to have access to tools that will make them more productive.
High-speed wireless broadband access will do that by allowing these entrepreneurs to do their jobs from about anywhere. The real-time video streaming capabilities supported by 4G LTE will allow business owners to more effectively communicate with suppliers in other states. Wireless broadband will allow them to utilize mobile device applications to sell their products to new customers the world over. Finally, the more reliable service these business owners will get from 4G LTE will allow them to be in constant touch with the office, even if they're vacationing with their families in the remotest areas of the Blue Ridge Mountains.
The Federal Communications Commission is in the process of reviewing this merger. If President Obama is serious about bringing high-speed wireless broadband to more Americans, including Georgia's small businesses, he should urge his appointees on the Commission, including Chair Julius Genachowski, to quickly approve this merger.
Clay Cox is a former State Representative from Lilburn where he served on the Energy, Utilities, andTelecommunications Committee.