How Much Broadband Do We Need?

iStock_000006826969XSmallAfter reading a report out today from the National Broadband Coalition, I found myself thinking about conversations in recent weeks with guys from Cisco (s csco) and my colleagues about how far the U.S. needs to go when it comes to fast broadband. The report tries to help set the agenda for the National Broadband Plan the Federal Communications Commission is crafting. Do we set our sights on 100Mbps, or pull out all the stops and race to 1Gbps? We’re talking residential broadband here, people — a huge leap when you consider that our current speeds range between 3Mbps and 5Mbps, and our national backbone capacity is about 40Gbps and is being upgraded to 100Gbps.

The coalition comprises 160 companies that in December¬†2008 organized to help craft and set an agenda for the National Broadband Plan that’s due in February. Members include telecommunications equipment companies, consumer organizations, technology firms, education groups and others. In the report, the group stressed that its members were heavily divided on the speed issue (but they all agreed that broadband is important and should be more widely used in education, health care and government activities). However, check out the chart below from the report (which isn’t a formal recommendation since the members were divided), and you’ll see that having a conversation about how much broadband is enough seems necessary.

We’re huge believers that, like improvements in processing power, faster broadband speeds will drive innovation, new business models, and even change the way we interact with each other. But private companies, governments and even consumers have a finite amount to spend. Do we allocate those dollars to laying a faster pipe, or put more of our resources toward taking advantage of that speed and optimizing the pipe? Just as chipmakers have declared the Gigahertz race to be largely irrelevant, when do we look at broadband speeds and say, “Enough?”