It’s Only Partly Cloudy in Parts of America: National Broadband Disparity may be the Long Term Challenge to Cloud Adoption.

Once upon a time, learning communities consisted of students who would gather in small, elite groups around a scholar for a session of Socratic dialog. In the 18th century this arrangement disappeared, and the classroom took its Place, brought about by the invention of the printing press and the availability of books and libraries.  A wider cross section of students could now leave the  classroom, study from books, then return to the classroom for dialog and interactive learning with scholars and teachers.  But if geographic distance prevented attendance in a classroom, there was nothing to be done, and outsiders accepted the limitations of their lives.  Recent advances in computer technology have changed such fateful scenarios (1997).    —Dr. Frank B. Withrow NASA Classroom of the Future

Many  IT departments have weighed the pros and cons of the cloud and have been caught up in the “Rush to the Cloud”  mentality.  A common strategy is to move some applications and keep others on premise. The move to the cloud is well underway and the challenges which have traditionally been an issue for IT departments are working themselves out as more and more organizations move their information resources to the cloud.   We are seeing more and more articles talking about the Upside to Cloud Security”. Although there are some cloud computing concerns, the overall upside to moving to cloud computing far outweighs the challenges

Although access to bandwidth in most places is not a major issue there are still pockets of bandwidth ‘have nots’ in some areas in the country.  In spite of all that has been done, access,  may be a greater concern in rural America than often stated issues such as security, integration etc…its all about bandwidth or the lack thereof in rural America. Broadband services and technology infrastructure, which most urban Americans take for granted have glaring gaps which limit opportunity in rural  America.

To begin looking at this challenge, we pulled together four maps comparing the Maximum Advertised Speed Available.  as shown by the National Broadband map.  The National Broadband Map is a tool to search, analyze and map broadband availability across the United States. Created and maintained by the NTIA, in collaboration with and in partnership with 50 states, five territories and the District of Columbia.

 

Maximum Advertised Speed Available =  768Kbps  to 1.5MbpsMaximum Advertised Speed Available = 768Kbps to 1.5Mbps

 

Maximum Advertised Speed Available =  10Mbps  to 25 Mbps

Maximum Advertised Speed Available = 25Mbps to 50Mbps

 

Maximum Advertised Speed Available =  25Mbps  to 50Mbps

 

Maximum Advertised Speed Available =  100Mbps  to 1GbpsMaximum Advertised Speed Available = 100Mbps to 1Gbps

The maps below don’t fully tell the story as we know from experience that maximum advertised speed rarely tells how much bandwidth you actually have. Other projects such as Internet2  and the National Lambda Rail, the Network for Advanced Research and Innovation provide broadband services for the U.S. research and education community.  These networks provide far greater capacity for service through a 12,000-mile innovation platform. Again though, as you look at the NLR map below there are obvious “haves” and “have nots”.  As you review the maps the “have nots” in this environment are again predominantly in rural areas.  

NLR Innovation Platform

Some would argue that pervasive broadband may not be just be a rural problem.  Susan Crawford, a professor at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law, is the author of “Captive Audience: The Telecom Industry and Monopoly Power in the New Gilded Age.”  wrote a great New York Times op-ed: “How to Get America Online”,  which brings to light  the problem of a few powerful companies with enormous influence over policy making. Both the wireless and wired markets for high-speed Internet access have become heavily concentrated, and neither is subject to substantial competition nor oversight. Companies like Time Warner Cable routinely get their way when they seek to prevent local officials from encouraging competition. At the federal level, Verizon Wireless is keeping the F.C.C. in court arguing over the scope of its regulatory powers — a move that has undermined the agency’s authority.    

Crawford continues to say prices are too high and speeds too slow. A third of Americans opt not to buy high-speed Internet access at home, often because they can’t afford it. In rural areas it is because it is not available. A prime objective of the National Broadband Plan is to ensure that unserved and underserved areas in the United States are not left behind and have access to the same broadband services available in served markets. There are problems with achieving this goal, including being able to access capital at reasonable rates for these projects of greater financial risk. Quite frankly, building broadband in unserved and underserved areas presents a financial challenge, with the return often being insufficient to attract both equity and debt investors.

Incumbents like Comcast and Verizon Wireless (now cooperating in a joint marketing venture) claim that their market is characterized by robust competition. But where is the competition when 94 percent of new wired high-speed customers bought service from their local cable distributors during the third quarter of 2012? Not surprisingly, America lags behind almost every other industrialized country in high-speed access — even France, the bête noir of American free-marketeers, has better and cheaper Internet access. Ouch, that one hurts.  

Government efforts such as the National Broadband Plan and the Broadband Initiatives Program (BIP) established in response to the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009  have helped in some areas. These programs describe a bold roadmap to America’s future with initiatives which will stimulate economic growth, spur job creation, and boost our capabilities in education, healthcare, homeland security and more.

Other efforts such as FCC Chairman Genachowski Gigabit City Challenge, in which Genachowski called for at least one gigabit community in all 50 states by 2015, are valiant efforts. These will not solve the policy issues and overall disparities in service between urban and rural areas, and we are far from being where we need to be as a nation in terms of overall broadband capacity. Our policy makers must be made aware of these issues if we expect to bring the benefits of cloud computing to all areas.   

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