Towards a Smarter Nation – Update

UPDATE: As bandwidth articles appear and the question start to gain traction, I will add the articles here for those of you who are interested in seeing if America catches up to the rest of the world or continues to fall behind. The article details the importance to the growth of our economy and the strength of our security. Bandwidth is as much a national issue as any other that has been raised, and is even overlooked more than climate change. Increased free or low cost high bandwidth will be the Great Divide between the nations that are pulling ahead and succeeding in the 21st century and those who are not. Today, compared to other countries that are providing the digital pipes for their citizens, we are falling further and further behind.  

This newest piece of the puzzle is from Huffington Post by Robert Pepper, Vice President, Global Technology Policy, Cisco. It supports and takes the premise many steps further.

Two Asian nations — Korea and Singapore — have managed to leapfrog multiple stages of economic development and have transformed into economic miracles. This comes as no accident, in part, because both have taken a planned approach to technological development, starting with national broadband plans, which has led to increased broadband adoption, and successive waves of economic growth.

A new report by the UN Broadband Commission and Cisco shows that Korea and Singapore are the most notable examples of a statistically significant trend; Countries that embrace national broadband plans have increased broadband adoption. The data show that the introduction of a broadband plan accounts for 2.5 percent higher fixed broadband penetration and 7.4 percent higher mobile broadband penetration. This is based on a thorough examination of broadband adoption data from 2001 through 2011.

For developing countries, 2.5 percent is nearly half of current fixed broadband penetration (6 percent). This is a significant impact and at the global level translates into over 175 million more broadband connections. In most cases, a single fixed connection serves multiple people, meaning more than half a billion more people onto broadband.
The report also demonstrates that a competitive market results in higher broadband penetration, with a particularly strong impact for mobile broadband. Competitive mobile broadband markets have 26.5 percent higher penetration on average.

Now why is this important?

Because, as we know, higher broadband penetration drives economic growth and helps nation achieve social goals, such as improved education and health care outcomes.

In the Republic of Korea, for example, the Government instituted a series of IT master plans since the mid-1990s, and the nation has since become a world leader in the utilization and production of IT. Over the last two decades, its nominal GDP per capita has more than doubled from under $12,000 in 1995 to over $25,000 in 2013 and the country consistently ranks in the top 10 countries in terms of average broadband speeds and adoption.

Similarly, in Singapore, the country has had national IT related plans in place since 1985 (starting with the National Computerisation Plan and most recently the iN2015). Over this period, the country has significantly advanced its IT environment. In 1980 Singapore was still at an early stage in IT development as it had only 22.2 fixed lines per 100 people, substantially below other countries such as Australia (32.3 fixed lines per 100 people) and New Zealand (36.1 fixed line per 100 people). But today, Singapore stands atop several measures of IT and broadband adoption, such as the 2013 Networked Readiness Index, where Singapore ranks second worldwide out of 144 countries.

And Korea and Singapore are just two examples; the same trend holds true for Chile, Spain, Latvia, Lithuania, and several other countries, including many on the African continent.
In Nyangwete, a remote Kenyan village of 20,000 people, Community Knowledge Centers are giving citizens Internet access and, with it, connections to language and technology training, health care information, and other resources. Local farmers connect with Kenya Seed Company to buy sorghum seeds then sell back the crops. In 2010, the village’s income from agriculture increased by 34 million Kenyan shillings (almost $400,000). Roughly 10 to 15 percent of the village population has branched out into new business after the influx of money in 2010. The number of women with personal businesses grew 20 to 30 percent since 2010, and the number of women receiving a secondary education has increased by roughly 20 percent since 2010.

Broadband deployment leads to more than economic opportunity; it can help create social progress and lead to healthier communities. In Kenya, Inveneo helped a nongovernmental organization called Organic Health Response (OHR) set up a 512kbps connection on Mfangano — an island in Lake Victoria with 26,000 inhabitants, dirt roads, and one of the highest HIV infection rates in the world. In exchange for having HIV tests every month, residents can access the Internet for free at an OHR training center. Once the broadband link was established, word spread quickly across the island, and within a few hours all 10 computers at the center were in use. As a result, more citizens are connected to the world outside Mfangano and 2,000 of them have enrolled in HIV/AIDS-related social services offered by OHR.

For policymakers thinking about how to jumpstart their economies, there are 5 basic takeaways.

  • Develop a national broadband plan to set a strategic vision for how information technology will drive your country’s knowledge economy;
  • Get buy in from both public and private constituencies;
  • Ensure the plan is balanced between the supply of high-speed Internet and demand driving adoption;
  • Implement rules and regulations that ensure a competitive broadband market;
  • Finally, regularly monitor progress toward broadband targets and ensure implementation and follow through.

To develop a national broadband plan and drive broadband adoption, the report identifies various forms of plans, critical elements of success and builds on the framework of broadband policies we identified in April in the World Economic Forum’s Global Information Technology Report.

The message to policymakers is clear: If you want to increase economic growth, focus on broadband. And to drive broadband, have an effective national broadband plan.

To read the report in full, click here.

Chattanooga, Tenn.

Josh Haner/The New York Times

Thomas L. Friedman

I was in Chattanooga, Tenn., last week, and people were still buzzing about an unusual duet heard on Oct. 13, using superlow-latency videoconference technology and the city’s new gigabit-per-second fiber-optic network. T-Bone Burnett, a Grammy Award winner, performed “The Wild Side of Life” with Chuck Mead, a founder of the band BR549, for an audience of 4,000. But Burnett played his part on a screen from a Los Angeles studio and Mead on a stage in Chattanooga. The transcontinental duet was possible, reported, because the latency of Chattanooga’s new fiber network was 67 milliseconds, meaning the audio and video traveled 2,100 miles from Chattanooga to Los Angeles in one-fourth the blink of an eye.

That cross-country duet is just one of many, many signs I’m seeing of bottom-up innovation happening in cities from Minneapolis to Chattanooga, where local Democrats and Republicans are coming together — in Chattanooga’s case to pass a $229 million bond issue to build a world-class fiber-optic grid that is spurring innovation and start-ups — to grow lots of good jobs. There is a huge amount of innovative thrust building, bottom-up, in the U.S. economy today. If Washington could just get the macro picture right, you could see a real growth surge in America. We’re just a couple of grand bargains away from something big.

And that brings me to the news. It’s good to see the budget talks between President Obama and the Republicans getting off to a solid start, but we know there will be plenty of partisan fireworks before any deal is cut. With that in mind, I hope the president will reframe and elevate the debate. It is vital that he not frame this as a discussion of just new taxes and spending cuts. His guiding principle should be “growth.” Right now, the whole budget discussion reeks too much of castor oil — and which side will have to swallow the biggest spoonful.

I get why the president needs to stress that the wealthy will have to pay higher taxes before he can go to his base for spending cuts to restore long-term fiscal balance. But here’s what I hope we’ll see more from the president: a sense of excitement, a sense that if we can just get this grand bargain done, we can really unlock growth again, we can really, as Mohamed El-Erian, the C.E.O. of the bond giant Pimco, puts it, “restore economic dynamism, ensure financial soundness, and overcome political dysfunction,” whichcollectively would have a huge stimulative effect. If everyone has to take their castor oil — the rich more, the middle class some — make them feel that it will enable us all to get stronger. Make them feel that we’re embarking on a new journey — not to punish but to solve, not to sock it to the successful but to create more abundance for all. Because the right mix of tax increases, spending cuts and investment incentives will spur more start-ups, lead to more risk-taking, inspire more entrepreneurship and create more jobs. Elections are win-lose, but successful negotiations are always to some degree win-win.

And that brings me back to Chattanooga, where, Mayor Ron Littlefield says, city elders looked themselves in the eyes 15 years ago and realized that “we were a dilapidated city going the way of the Rust Belt.” But, by coming together to make the city an attractive place to live and getting both parties to agree to invest in a fiber-to-every-home-and-business network in a 600-square-mile area, Chattanooga replaced its belching smokestacks with an fulfillment center, major health care and insurance companies and a beehive of tech start-ups that all thrive on big data and super-high-speed Internet. “We’ve gone from being a slowly declining and deflating urban balloon, to one of the fastest-growing cities in Tennessee,” said Littlefield. The fiber network now attracts companies that “like to see more and more of their employees able to work some of the time at home, which saves on office space and parking,” the mayor said.

How fast is that Chattanooga choo-choo? The majority of Chattanooga homes and businesses get 50 megabits per second, some 100 megabits, a few 250 and those with big needs opt for a full gigabit per second, explained Harold DePriest, the chief executive of EPB, the city’s electric power and telecom provider, which built and operates the network. “The average around the country is 4.5 megabits per second.” So average Internet speed in Chattanooga is 10 times the national average. That doesn’t just mean faster downloads. The fiber grid means 150,000 Chattanooga homes now have smart electric meters to track their energy consumption in real time. More important, said DePriest, on July 5, Chattanooga got hit with an unusual storm that knocked out power to 80,000 homes. Thanks to intelligent power switching on the fiber network, he said, “42,000 homes had their electricity restored in … 2 seconds.” Old days: 17 hours.

That network was fully completed thanks to $111 million in stimulus money. Imagine that we get a grand bargain in Washington that also includes a stimulus of just $20 billion to bring the 200 biggest urban areas in America up to Chattanooga’s standard. You’d see a “melt-up” in the U.S. economy. We are so close to doing something big and smart. Somebody needs to tell the Congress.

This next piece is from NPR October 25, 2012.

A Growing Need For Broadband

Since 2005, the popularity of smartphones has helped create new demand for broadband. As this chart shows, global demand isn’t expected to fade:

There are more ways than ever to watch TV programs on the Internet, from Netflix and Amazon to Hulu. But many viewers discover that watching TV on the Web can be frustrating. Their favorite show might suddenly stop, stutter and be replaced by a note that reads “buffering.” The problem is lack of bandwidth: The data that is the video just can’t squeeze through the wires and onto the screen.

But there is a place where some people never worry about bandwidth. It’s called Fiber Space, and it was created by Google as part of its Internet access project in Missouri.

“This is our demo space where people get a chance to experience Google Fiber,” says Carlos Casas, who leads Google’s team in Kansas City, Mo. The company is in the process of wiring the entire city with low-cost 1-gigabit broadband. That’s about 100 times faster than what most Americans can get now.

“It’s not yet installed in homes, and so we wanted to have a space where people could come and just see what the technology looks like,” Casas says.

The Kansas City space connects all kinds of TVs, tablets and computers to Google’s fast fiber network.

To duplicate an experience you might have at home, reporter Suzanne Hogan of Kansas City member stationKCUR and I tried an experiment.

I used NPR’s connection in Washington, D.C., to watch an HD nature video while downloading an 8-gigabyte video game that I wanted to play later. Hogan, joined by Casas and another Google team member, Tom Fitzgerald, did the same thing.

The video begins playing in Washington, but the game doesn’t t start to download.

From Kansas City, Hogan reports, “The video is playing in the background. … We haven’t had any delay with that … and we’re currently how far along on the game?”

Fitzgerald answers, “33 percent downloaded.”

In D.C., my 10-minute nature movie freezes. Meanwhile, back in Kansas City, Hogan tells me, “We’ve only got about two minutes left of this movie.”

“I can start and play a whole other movie if you want,” Fitzgerald offers.

Over the course of 10 minutes, Kansas City downloaded the 8-gigabyte game and watched two HD videos. In that same time, my video froze, and I downloaded 3.3 percent of the game. Fail.

Things are so much better in Kansas City because Google is streaming video and information directly through its high-capacity fiber network. Casas says the company hopes the Kansas City experiment will inspire broadband providers to deploy similar networks around the country.

“We saw it when we went from dial-up to broadband. People didn’t think of the things we’d be able to do, and all of a sudden we have video conferencing, we have social media,” he says. “So now we’re very excited about the possibilities that fiber will bring.”

Faster Internet speeds will not only make it possible to watch HD video while downloading a game. Blair Levin, a telecommunications specialist at the Aspen Institute, says he also imagines video chatting with friends while they’re all watching the same game on TV.

“Wouldn’t it be great if you could watch the college football game with all your buddies from college,” he says, “and have something resembling the experience you had when you were in college, in terms of presence of each other.”

Unfortunately, Levin says, there isn’t much incentive right now for broadband providers like Comcast or Verizon to upgrade their networks. Cable can already provide faster broadband service than the telephone companies, and it would simply cost the telcos too much to catch up.

“In the middle of the last decade, the telcos were saying, ‘We’re going to provide better networks than cable,’ ” Levin says. “Now what they’re simply saying is, ‘We like the networks, we’re not going to invest to be better networks — but we’re going to try other ways in which we improve the value proposition.’ ”

Those values include things like bundling phone, Internet and TV to lure consumers away from cable. For their part, TV programmers are not all that interested in making it easier for fans to watch via the Internet.

“The programmers are making tens of billions of dollars by selling that programming in big bundles to cable distributors,” says Susan Crawford, a former tech adviser to the Obama administration. “And they have no incentive to break up those bundles and make those individual channels available online. They’d make much, much less money.”

For its part, Verizon did spend more than $20 billion building out its Fios fiber network to more than 17 million customers. But then it stopped. The company’s Bob Elek says nobody seems to be using all that bandwidth.

“The market demand isn’t really there,” he says, “both from a consumer perspective and from the applications and the things that people are providing to be used on the network. It just isn’t there yet.”

A project like the one Google is setting up in Kansas City may open some eyes to what life could be like if we had faster networks. That might lead to more demand, and maybe an end to your buffering … I mean, suffering.

Part of Morning Edition’s weeklong series, How We Watch What We Watch.

It’s no coincidence that the Top 10 countries with the highest annual GDP growth rate and best scores in Reading, Math and Science are also the Top 10 countries with the best internet connectivity and most widespread acceptance of online learning programs.

A Mystery is Solved

It was a mystery to me why we were falling behind as a country in so many areas such as annual GDP and comparative test scores in Reading, Math and Science.  A mystery until I started looking at a few seemingly unrelated statistics: the levels of adoption of online learning and the availability of broadband internet access. It suddenly became clear why we were slipping behind countries that had their flags firmly planted in the Digital Earth of the 21st century.

Rapidly Growing – Everywhere Else

A new study suggests how quickly online learning is rapidly growing. The global market for online learning products is expected to reach $49.9 Billion by 2015, according to a study by the international research group, Ambient Insight Research.

This reflects almost a 10% growth since 2010, when the market for online learning products was estimated to be $32.1 Billion.

The study includes a wide variety of products, including virtual classroom learning; online self-paced training; blended learning that incorporates both; social learning that includes social collaboration and communication tools;  interactive online texts, guides, course notes with multimedia elements, and instructional videos.

This rapid growth is taking place everywhere except the U.S.1

1. Ambient Insight’s company website

The Connectivity Connection

My work takes me around the world, talking with corporations, schools and NGOs about maximizing the effectiveness of their online education and training programs.  I am always delighted by the availability of, and ease of access to, high-speed internet connectivity. I often wondered why the internet connections were faster and more available in countries outside the U.S. After all, it WAS invented here. I was curious to learn if there was any relationship between broadband connectivity, the adoption and use of online learning for education, the country’s annual GDP growth, and the reading, math and science test score rankings.

I’m still amazed by what I discovered.

When you cross reference the top ten countries having the best broadband internet connectivity, and the top ten countries in terms of scores for Reading, Math and Science, you see the following:

Top 10 Connectivity2 Top 10 Reading, Math and Science3
South Korea South Korea
Japan Finland
Romania Canada
Netherlands New Zealand
Scandinavia (Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Finland) Japan
Czec Republic Australia
Belgium Netherlands
Denmark Belgium
Switzerland Norway
Canada Switzerland

2. Top 10 Connectivity and Most Connected Users (The 50 nations are made up of those countries with the most connected users. Akamai’s data comes from the second quarter of 2010 and measures “real-world” connection speeds.)

3. Top 10 Reading, Math and Science Exam Scores ( Guardian UK The OECD’s Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD)comprehensive world education ranking report) The Programme for International Student Assessment (Pisa) is highly respected across the globe, and enables politicians and policy-makers to assess how different country’s education systems compare.

It is not a coincidence that 9 of the Top 10 countries with the best comparative exam scores in Reading, Math and Science are also among the Top 10 countries with the best internet connectivity (number of people connected and highest bandwidth for their connection). Here is the list:

  • South Korea
  • Japan
  • Netherlands
  • Canada
  • Belgium
  • Switzerland
  • Canada
  • Scandinavia
    • Finland
    • Norway.

So there is a direct correlation between the test scores and the degree of widespread broadband internet connectivity. These same countries are also included in the Top 10 countries with the most rapidly growing annual GDP4.

4. Data refer to the year 2011. World Economic Outlook Database-September 2011, International Monetary Fund. Accessed on January 6, 2012.

Smarter Countries

There are many reasons at work that help explain why these countries have achieved Top 10 status with regard to comparative scores in Reading, Math and Science, internet connectivity and annual growth rates. In my opinion, one of the key reasons is the ability of the people from Grades K through Continuous Learner to have high-speed internet connections so they can learn online.

Online learning and better academic test scores make sense. What is less obvious is the availability and acceptance of online learning for know-how as well as knowledge and higher annual GDP growth.

The basic reason is simple. In today’s flat world, in which hypercompetiton rules, information changes so fast it’s impossible to be an Expert. Compared to 5 years ago, new product releases happen every three months instead of every three years. The speed at which all workers must constantly cycle through learning-forgetting-relearning is greater than anything we ever imagined.

Learning is Job Number One.

Traditional education programs, where teachers stand at the front of a classroom of students at any grade, will not be able to supply the already large and constantly growing amount of knowledge and know-how people need to do their jobs. The only answer, short of rapidly cloning great teachers, is increasing the availability of online learning.

Let’s take a closer look at Number One in all the categories – South Korea – as a case study.

South Korea’s e-learning market has realized sustained growth every year, according to the country’s government. Yonhap News reports that over half of the populace over the age of three use elearning in one form or another.

In 2010, 49 per cent of these people had used virtual learning environments in their education, but today this figure is almost 60%, the Ministry of Knowledge Economy revealed. The fact that they have a Ministry of Knowledge Economy says a great deal.

Providing elearning programs is a growth industry in South Korea with a 6.9% year-on-year jump in 2011. Combined sales from these enterprises increased by 9.2 per cent over the year, with transactions reaching $2.21 Billion dollars.

The government attributed this spike in part to a greater use of e-learning courses in educational institutions. Last year, 82.3% of all schools in the country used online learning in their official curriculum.

“To help further foster a niche for the e-learning industry, the government will establish a support centre that will support the development of new smart learning systems,” the ministry was quoted by the Yonhap News.

By 2015, South Korea intends to make online education available to all its citizens through private elearning and public access to government sponsored open-content programs. High-speed wireless networks will enable the population to learn “wherever and whenever” they want, through internet-connected television sets, PCs, tablet computers and laptops.

Compare that to the lack of policies and vision in the U.S.

The Teacher-in-a-Class Conundrum  

I live in California where the career colleges are turning away an estimated 300,000 students a year because the demand for an education dramatically outstrips the supply of teachers. In 2007, I was working with a South African NGO trying to provide knowledge  about HIV/AIDS and the know-how to prevent the disease. The NGO estimated that there were so many people they needed to educate that it would take 50 years of teaching teachers to get the job done. And it wasn’t just education about HIV/AIDS.

In the Fall of 2011, at the University of Johannesburg, more than 20 people were injured and one woman was killed trying register for a limited number of openings. Thousands had camped out overnight hoping to snag one of the few available places and when the gates opened, there was a stampede.

We need to learn from the Top 10 about placing the teacher-in-a-box and holding a class with 2,000 people instead of just 20. Here’s a really interesting and related story from NPR about Stanford University going to 160,000 students instead of having those students come to Stanford. It’s definitely a ‘mountain coming to Mohammed’ tale.

Increasing the Nation’s IQ

With constant changes in the knowledge and know-how people need to do their jobs the traditional formal ways of learning no longer work for us. As a few visionary countries are proving, the answer is better connectivity coupled with more online learning programs. Their goal is to take the lead in the education of the citizens, the level of skills of their workforce and the economic growth of their countries.

The question is, how much longer can we afford to lag behind?

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