Although NASA has retired the 30-year-old space shuttle program, that doesn't mean Americans have stopped shooting for the moon, literally or figuratively. The launch of the first privately owned space vehicle, SpaceX's unmanned "Dragon" capsule, into orbit to dock with the international space station has paved the way for a new future in the stars.
American ingenuity is also creating an out-of-this-world experience right here on the ground. Today, we are able to wirelessly download books and magazines to a tablet we can manipulate with our fingertips. We can access Spotify, the world's largest record store, from anywhere for free. We can chat with friends and loved ones with crystal clear video and audio quality. Our mobile phones double as everything from credit cards to house keys.
All of these technologies rely on the nation's robust high- speed Internet infrastructure, a network born in part from the kind of bipartisan political agreement in this case, the decision in 1996 to replace regulation with competition to spawn what would become high-speed data networks that almost seems alien today.
Indeed, the loss of this bipartisan consensus-building has, on telecommunications, created a fractured debate in which the extremes get the attention, and in which consensus on how to build the next phase of broadband revolution is lost.
What's especially troubling is that these squeaky wheels are trying to drive a debate with a rusty fact checker.
Some of the more extreme critics today claim Internet service providers have failed to invest in our broadband infrastructure. But in the past 15 years the period after which a Republican-led Congress and the Clinton administration agreed to overhaul the nation's communications laws to usher in the broadband Internet era telephone, cable, wireless and satellite companies have invested more than a trillion dollars, which is more than nearly any other industry.
Even during the Great Recession, broadband companies have continued to upgrade and improve the information superhighway, to the tune of $250 billion since 2008. The networks they built and continue to expand reach 95 percent of the country. If there ever was proof positive that taking an affirmative, laissez faire approach to an industry can encourage investment, this is it.
Other naysayers are arguing our broadband Internet speeds are too slow and thereby in need of government intervention. But customers in about four out of five U.S. homes today can download data at 100 megabits per second enough to cue up an album in three seconds. Fourteen million homes have access to an all-fiber network that can offer 300 Mbps service. And by the end of this year, almost every home in the United States will be able to purchase fourth-generation wireless service that can deliver up to 20 Mbps while the user is on the go. Each of these announcements was recently issued and is unlikely to be the last.
Other critics argue that there is too little competition and, as a result, prices are too high for Internet access. Yet the Internet marketplace has products to appeal to consumers of all stripes. All told, Americans can choose from anywhere from six to a dozen wired and wireless Internet providers. Prices range from mobile data for as little as $15 monthly to massive data pipes fit for a business that cost hundreds of dollars.
Several countries in Europe and Asia have experimented with government-funded networks, requirements that broadband Internet providers lease capacity to consumers, and the price controls for which the chicken-little, sky-is-falling critics thirst. In all cases, consumers have been left with fewer broadband choices, slower speeds and a hefty tax bill. Plus, those countries are light years behind the United States in terms of communications infrastructure investment.
Our companies spend two-to-three times more than in second-ranked Japan. The last thing we should do is jeopardize our position as the world's leader in broadband network investment with an unnecessary change in course.
Young is a professor of public administration at California State University, San Bernardino.