Why Gigabit Matters

Gigabit is almost 150 times as fast as the average national broadband speed, giving communities an opportunity to develop a thriving culture of innovation.

But simply noting it’s 150 times as fast fails to capture its true import. Gigabit is a new paradigm, one in which the network’s speed is no longer a bottleneck.

Think of broadband after the age of dial-up — all of a sudden you didn't have to wait hours to upload or download your family photographs. Gigabit means not having to wonder if some new technology will work on your Internet connection. (It will.) Gigabit speeds give your household the flexibility to stream multiple high-definition videos, play games, videochat, upload to YouTube — all at the same time, with plenty of bandwidth left over for whatever the next new thing will be.

Currently only a few U.S. communities — including Chattanooga, Tenn., Kansas City and Burlington, Vt. — have networks that can deliver gigabit speeds. In fact, most Americans with access to gigabit get their service through municipal broadband networks.

It can take decades to pay back the investment needed to deliver gigabit Internet speeds. Shareholders of the big cable and DSL companies balk at the price tag, and lack of competition gives incumbent Internet service providers little incentive to offer faster speeds. But gigabit connections can be a great investment for communities looking to create a unique platform for economic development.

Gigabit’s transformative power will become apparent only when next-generation broadband networks are deployed more widely. So how do we bring gigabit to every home in the country?

Vint Cerf says we need more competition. Susan Crawford says we should move to a utility model. Thomas Friedman says that President Obama should make investing in gigabit a national priority. The Institute for Local Self-Reliance supports a grassroots movement. Regardless of the path forward, this is an effort that will require all of us working together to create the next generation of the Internet.

Bradley Holt is co-founder and technical director of Found Line and organizer of the BTV Gig initiative, which is designed to leverage gigabit Internet speeds for the benefit of Burlington residents.

Original photo by Flickr user William Hook

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