The Introduction to the National Broadband Plan describes the history, challenges and vision for broadband in America:
In every era, America must confront the challenge of connecting our nation anew. In this era, broadband can be our foundation for economic growth, job creation, global competitiveness and a better way of life.
In the 1860s, we connected Americans to a transcontinental railroad that brought cattle from Cheyenne to the stockyards of Chicago. In the 1930s, we connected Americans to an electric grid that improved agriculture and brought industry to the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee and the Great Plains of Nebraska. In the 1950s, we connected Americans to an interstate highway system that fueled jobs on the line in Detroit and in the warehouse in L.A.
Infrastructure networks unite us as a country, bringing together parents and children, buyers and sellers, and citizens and government in ways once unimaginable. Ubiquitous access to infrastructure networks has continually driven American innovation, progress, prosperity and global leadership.
Communications infrastructure plays an integral role in this American story. In the 1920s, ’30s, ’40s and ’50s, telephony, radio and television transformed America, unleashing new opportunities for American innovators to create products and industries, new ways for citizens to engage their elected officials and a new foundation for job growth and international competitiveness.
Private investment was pivotal in building most of these networks, but government actions also played an important role. Treasury bonds and land grants underwrote the railroad,1 the Rural Electrification Act brought electricity to farms and the federal government funded 90% of the cost of the interstate highways.
In communications, the government stimulated the construction of radio and television facilities across the country by offering huge tracts of the public’s airwaves free of charge. It did the same with telephony through a Universal Service Fund, fulfilling the vision of the Communications Act of 1934 ‘to make available, so far as possible, to all the people of the United States, a rapid, efficient, Nation-wide, and world-wide wire and radio communication service with adequate facilities at reasonable charges.’
Today, high-speed Internet is transforming the landscape of America more rapidly and more pervasively than earlier infrastructure networks. Like railroads and highways, broadband accelerates the velocity of commerce, reducing the costs of distance. Like electricity, it creates a platform for America’s creativity to lead in developing better ways to solve old problems. Like telephony and broadcasting, it expands our ability to communicate, inform and entertain.
Broadband is the great infrastructure challenge of the early 21st century.