The nation is gearing up for this year’s State of the Union address by President Obama on Tuesday, January 20. The SOTU is an opportunity for the president to share the successes of his administration over the previous year and plot the course he hopes to take in 2015. Where one could discuss the record stock market, more sustainable oil prices, higher jobs growth numbers, lower national deficit, or any other of the hard data proven statistics that show 2014 was great for this country and great for this president, the more interesting parts of this year’s SOTU will highlight the ambitious but achievable goals President Obama has for the coming year and beyond.
In September of 2013, Reuben Fischer-Baum over at Gizmodo put together an interesting article (with graphics) that explained where the best and worst Internet connections were in the United States. Not surprisingly, whole swaths of the nation are bathed in light and dark reds that signify they are supporting woefully slow Internet connection speeds for their citizens. In a nation that led the world into the Internet Age, this is both depressing and embarrassing. Like our highways and public works systems, we have let the infrastructure of the Internet remain poorly outdated.
Where first we used the Internet as a means of connection and communication, today’s Internet is responsible for an entire e-commerce economy. Today’s Internet is responsible for providing information for students, citizens, and city, state, and national leaders. Today’s Internet is an unlimited trove of information and data. And most people and businesses in the United States have trouble being able to access it properly. The entertainment, education, and economy of our nation are on the cusp of becoming world class. For now, we are subject to longer downloads and all too frequent buffering messages that produce frustration and highlight the inadequacy of our current national broadband infrastructure.
In what will be one of the more ambitious initiatives in President Obama’s SOTU, we are to learn of his plan to give the entire nation an Internet upgrade when he calls for the establishment of an improved infrastructure that will bring affordable high speed Internet to all Americans. In a 3:37 video posted to YouTube (embedded below), the president explains how much of the United States is woefully behind in delivering high speed Internet compared to Seoul, Hong Kong, Tokyo, and Paris. In fact, only three U.S. cities deliver comparable speeds currently: Cedar Falls, Iowa; Kansas City, Missouri; and Chattanooga, Tennessee.
Speaking in Cedar Falls, Iowa last week, a community of just over 40,000, the president presented an in-depth argument for why we need to make high speed Internet connectivity a national priority. Cedar Falls was chosen for the president’s early roll out of this initiative because they, as a community, decided to bring fiber optic Internet to their city rather than wait for one of the large national corporations to provide it to them. Some 20 years ago Cedar Falls recognized the value in implementing a 21st Century Internet solution. They initially brought broadband to the city and provided it as a utility. As the Internet grew and changed, Cedar Falls realized that basic broadband was no longer going to be sufficient. So in 2010, the city brought a fiber network and a faster Internet to the citizens of Cedar Falls. As a result, Google has named Cedar Falls as the best city in Iowa for e-commerce. “What you’re showing us here in America,” President Obama stated, “[is] you don’t have to be the biggest community to do really big things.” The president’s plan is to inspire other communities to follow in Cedar Falls shoes and, in so doing, bring about a renaissance in how Americans communicate, conduct business, connect, and share.
On Tuesday night, the president will make the case for the necessity of an improved and updated infrastructure by discussing how today’s slow Internet is actually a hindrance to those companies trying to get their footing in a changing business landscape. As we move toward a more digital world, companies unable to access the Internet due to slow connection speeds will likely lose business, lose customers, and lose market share.
Perhaps the best argument, (and one made very well in Fischer-Baum’s piece) is that the poor state of Internet connectivity in this nation is but one more signifier of a society that is becoming ever more polarized by the chasm that is wealth inequality. All of the mapped data sets show particularly fast connectivity figures in higher wealth areas while much of the country is left languishing in piteous broadband connectivity speeds, or worse, still using dial-up. For the nation responsible for the advent of the Internet, this should be seen as simply unacceptable. As the president noted in his Cedar Falls address, 98 percent of Americans are covered by providers offering the most basic broadband Internet connectivity. Unfortunately, availability of basic broadband Internet and affordability of basic broadband Internet are two entirely different matters. Approximately 45 million Americans currently do not have the ability or the means to purchase broadband connectivity. By urging a national initiative to drive the next-gen Internet, the president claims, as was the case for Cedar Falls, that the affordability of high speed Internet will be positively affected as well.
President Obama will take to the podium to deliver his 2015 State of the Union address at 9:00 EST Tuesday, January 20. Live broadcast of the SOTU will be on television, YouTube, Google+, and at whitehouse.gov/SOTU. The whitehouse.gov site promises to be the most interesting venue to watch the speech as it will be an optimized presentation that will provide figures and graphs to better illustrate the president’s message.