Adams: It's time to get moving on Internet speeds

While President Barack Obama and Congress have made clear how important broadband is to our nation by putting $7.2 billion in stimulus funding behind broadband initiatives, there still seems to be a perception gap among many non-adopter citizens.

In short, there is a lack of understanding of the value broadband connectivity can bring to their lives. The U.S. Telecom Association recently said many citizens aren't adopting because of "perceived lack of Internet relevance." If the perception is high-speed access is all about iTunes and iPods, then public education should be part of public policy as it relates to stimulus funding on broadband networks.

We know it's routine for students to submit their assignments online, or for job seekers to find and apply for employment. What's less obvious is that high-speed Internet is the new growth engine for innovation, collaboration, education, learning and professional development opportunities. This is why broadband networks will impact the future growth of our communities, our nation and our lives as individuals.

In the Cleveland area, for example, public libraries offer summer programs to teach children 3-D imaging, animation and other skills that will prepare them for tomorrow's opportunities.

This spring in Miami, the city announced the start of a $200 million Smart Grid initiative led by state utility company Florida Power & Light. An initial build-out to 1,000 homes will test different devices and services such as dashboards, smart thermostats, smart appliances and demand response software that are designed to help consumers more actively manage their energy consumption.

These are just a few examples of initiatives we at the Knight Center of Digital Excellence are helping along.

It is a disservice to America to trivialize the importance of broadband by relating applications primarily to pop culture. Sure, entertainment options increase as broadband expands, but that's hardly the driving force of broadband networks. The public relations firm Ruder Finn found in a recent survey that research and self-education topped entertainment as reasons for going online.

Beyond what's at stake for individuals, our nation is now in a position of playing catch-up with global competitors. We're woefully behind in developing the broadband platform needed to continue moving forward and spurring innovation. In a recent Technology Policy Institute study analyzing download speeds, the United States falls between 11th and 14th in the world in that category, depending on the survey.

More disheartening is a study that shows the United States had one of the worst increases in download speed over the past year of any nation.

It gets even worse regarding upload speeds. A number of studies shows the average U.S. upload speed to be somewhere between 371 kilobytes per second and 435 Kbps. Hardly adequate for the many potential business, education, telemedicine and e-government applications we need to drive down costs and spur innovation.

It's critical to get everyone in the United States connected to high-speed Internet as soon as possible. When citizens aren't online, our nation's resources — our entrepreneurial spirit and innovative minds — are not being leveraged.

It's time now to connect the dots on the demonstrated payoffs, so that Americans clearly know what opportunities are in store as a result of broadband adoption.

So what? It's our future.

Adams oversees public information for the Knight Center of Digital Excellence.