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Experts Discuss National Broadband Plan at the Broadband Breakfast Club

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WASHINGTON March 17, 2011 - On the one-year anniversary of the announcement of the National Broadband Plan, Broadband Breakfast gathered key industry experts to offer criticism and discuss the government’s implementation of the plan.

The National Broadband Plan: A One-Year Update from

“The plan showed that broadband is not a luxury, it’s really a necessity” said Information Technology and Innovation Foundation founder Robert Atkinson, “It showed that speed is not the only goal, it’s also ubiquity and adoption.”

Communication architect Daniel Berninger called the plan "too timid," and said, “the plan will not push us to become number one in the world.” He went onto say connectivity will be the main driving force of the economy in the future. Berninger fears that if the U.S. does not improve its high-speed network availability, it will never be able to overcome China’s massive population advantage.

John Erik Garr, former General Manager of the Omnibus Broadband Initiative, disagreed with Berninger’s characterization that the plan was too timid.

“We didn’t have all the data we needed but we wanted to create an aspirational document which presents a baseline while offering up some long term goals.” Garr said.

Jim Baller, founder of the U.S. Broadband Coalition, agreed with Garr, saying, “The plan did not have all the data it needed and therefore a consensus could not be made on what exactly we need.” However, the plan tried to move broadband development forward.

Broadband will be a key driving factor in the economy according to Baller, not just through expanding the network but also by creating applications on top of it.

“Companies like Netflix are adding value to the network," Berninger said. "ISPs don’t like this because it uses their network too heavily, but these are the applications people want and its what drives them to adopt high speed broadband.”

Garr also contrasted the American plan to those in others countries. Many foreign plans, he said, focused solely on expanding networks, but his team wanted to look at the whole ecosystem, including applications and devices.

Atkinson agreed that the plan was aspirational and pointed out that networks should always be a little faster than what we need, so new applications can be developed.

One Economy’s Director of Community Impact, Clyde Edward, commended the plan for looking beyond simple network expansion.

“Access is not the only important part," said Edward. "Low income families need to learn the value of broadband before they will adopt.”

The national purposes section of the plan laid out direct benefits to people that can be implemented in short term and some that require years of research.

Keith Montgomery, Senior Program Director, Broadband, ICF International, echoed the panel’s sentiments about showing the usefulness of broadband to expand adoption and told about working to expand broadband in New Zealand, where the first group of adopters were farmers.

“These small farmers were able to see how having access gave them not only better communication," said Montgomery, "but it allowed them to get information faster and learn about commodity prices.”

Montgomery warned, however, that while adoption is important, the network needs to be robust for adoption to work properly. To illustrate, he pointed to wireless, which may be cheaper and easier to setup, but does not offer the reliability and speed of a wired connection.

The panel agreed that adoption is a difficult problem to solve since it requires more than just more money. For example, Garr and Edward both asserted that adoption is something that needs to be solved at the local level to cater to community needs. Atkinson agreed but added that while each community is unique, many communities share common characteristics and the federal government should compile adoption resources to help solve common problems.

The full video can be viewed here.

Rahul Gaitonde has been writing for since the fall of 2009, and in May of 2010 he became Deputy Editor. He was a fellow at George Mason University’s Long Term Governance Project, a researcher at the International Center for Applied Studies in Information Technology and worked at the National Telecommunications and Information Administration. He holds a Masters of Public Policy from George Mason University, where his research focused on the economic and social benefits of broadband expansion. He has written extensively about Universal Service Fund reform, the Broadband Technology Opportunities Program and the Broadband Data Improvement Act

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