WASHINGTON—Advocates for government-operated broadband networks and many progressive lawmakers often call for extreme steps to transform the U.S. broadband system because, they claim, the country needs universal broadband networks capable of gigabit-per-second speeds. “This is mythmaking of the highest order,” according to a new report released today by the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF), the leading think tank for science and technology policy. The paper, which is the first in a new series examining misconceptions about broadband policy, takes a close look at the most common arguments for an all-fiber network and finds they rest on a series of false premises and faulty analysis.
“All else being equal, more bandwidth is better than less—and investment that drives fiber deeper into access networks is welcome—but there is no real need for radical change to the competitive system that continues to expand network capacity,” says Doug Brake, ITIF’s director of broadband and spectrum policy and lead author of the report. “Today’s high-bandwidth applications require significantly less than a gigabit per second. The economic benefit from dramatically higher speed is negligible.”
The new ITIF report explains there are no current applications that require gigabit-per-second speeds, so demand for additional speed drops off quickly after a certain point, even in countries with widespread fiber infrastructure. Nonetheless, the U.S. market-based system continues to invest to improve capacity. Both cable and telcom providers lay fiber where it makes Most sense from an economic standpoint.
Applications like holograms at some point may require extreme speeds, but current network capacity expansion is on pace to accommodate these uses. In the meantime, extreme speeds are only needed for large, high-resolution transfers, and it would be detrimental to shift to government-owned infrastructure across the country to ensure broadband advances.
“Overall, wanting gigabit fiber networks everywhere is like saying we should invest hundreds of billions of dollars to design our freeways so cars can drive 600 miles per hour, even though cars can’t go that fast,” adds Brake. “Bandwidth needs are reaching a plateau at the moment, roughly following the speeds required to stream high-definition video. The ‘national imperative’ of universal gigabit broadband is simply a myth.”