Two decades ago, the chattering classes fretted about economic upheaval rising from Japan and the Asian Tigers. They feared an invasion of cars, microchips, and Karaoke that would take away American jobs, take over U.S.-dominated industries, and shift cultural norms. In the 1990s, America responded with a boom in high technology and Hollywood exports. But a revolution is again brewing in places like Japan and South Korea. This time it’s about broadbanda technology that, in terms of powering economies, could be the 21st century equivalent of electricity. But rather than relive the jingoism of the 1980s, American policy makers would be wise to take a cue from the Asian innovators and implement new policies to close the digital divide at home and with the rest of the world.
Most people know broadband as an alternative to their old, slow dial-up Internet connection. These high-capacity data networks made of fiber-optic cables provide a constant, unbroken connection to the Internet. But broadband is about much more than checking your email or browsing on EBay. In the near future, telephone, television, radio and the web all will be delivered to your home via a single broadband connection. In the not-so-distant-future, broadband will be an indispensable part of economic, personal, and public life. Those countries that achieve universal broadband are going to hold significant advantages over those who don’t. And so far, the United States is poised to be a followernot a leaderin the broadband economy.