White House Report Shows U.S. Making Real Broadband Progress

By Jon Anzur

The past four years marked a period of growth in the digital economy and broadband infrastructure, access, and speed. According to a recent White House report on the state of U.S. broadband, increased private investment and a light-touch regulatory approach to the Internet are the main reasons why.

More than 94 percent of American homes today have access to fast, affordable, and reliable wired broadband—a 90 percent increase since 2000. This rapid jump in access to broadband services reflects increased annual investment in U.S. wireless networks. Since 2009, investment in U.S. broadband infrastructure grew more than 40 percent, from $21 billion to $30 billion, and surpassed stateside investment by major oil and gas companies.

Investment in wireless broadband (mobile and fixed), specifically, is driving America’s digital progress. The U.S. was the first nation to scale up deployment of next-generation 4G Long-Term Evolution (LTE) wireless technologies, which offer faster speeds than previous wireless technologies and are attracting more users to the digital economy. Additionally, the U.S. boasts the fastest average mobile data connection speed in the world, with a speed five times greater than the global average. It is no surprise that nearly half of the world’s 4G/LTE subscribers reside in the states.

Broadband technologies benefit individual consumers, small businesses, and the American economy. According to the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, more than 80 percent of Americans have access to advanced mobile broadband. Today, there are more than 500 million Internet-connected devices in American homes—that’s nearly six Internet-connected devices per home. U.S. smartphone ownership skyrocketed by 40 percent during the past four years, enabling an entire economy of mobile applications known as the “App Economy.” This dynamic and growing sector of the American economy created more than 500,000 U.S. jobs since 2007.

Still, the White House report points to broadband adoption, speed, and pricing as areas for improvement. Yet, U.S. broadband ranks top 10 in the world in terms of broadband speeds and American consumers enjoy some of the lowest prices in the world for entry-level broadband plans. In fact, despite tales of America’s broadband providers earning windfall profits at consumers’ expense, American providers are significantly less profitable than European providers.

Where the U.S. does lag internationally, however, is in broadband adoption rates. Approximately 29 percent of Americans do not use broadband at home despite having access. According to the Pew Research Center, nearly half of these households do not use the Internet because they do not believe it is relevant to their lives. Other major factors inhibiting U.S. broadband adoption are a lack of digital literacy and low computer ownership rates. That’s why Richard Bennett, senior fellow at the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, commends educational programs like Connect2Compete and Comcast’s Internet Essentials as an important force to incent broadband adoption.

Fortunately, there is reason to be optimistic about the future of U.S. broadband. America’s broadband networks are improving at a faster rate than networks in most developed nations—undoubtedly a result of intense investment in the competitive broadband industry. As evidenced by the past four years of broadband success, private investment and a light-touch regulatory approach created a platform for innovation and growth, and this same approach will likely continue propelling U.S. broadband in a positive direction.