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HolidayBuyer's Guide

Bushies say broadband is doing great

People are signing up for high-speed Net in record numbers, so there's no problem, right? Wrong.

Presidential advisors convened a reporter's round table in Washington today to point out that the administration is doing just peachy in its goal of getting broadband to the masses. Broadband subscriber numbers are growing faster than color TVs or VCRs at a similar point after their introductions, said Phil Bond, undersecretary of commerce for technology.

That’s campaign talk. It's a stretch to say that Bush has anything to do with this, and – to be fair – he'd probably agree. His strategy is to get out of the way of the market, and so essentially he's saying that the laissez faire approach is working. Perhaps the latest round of FCC decisions have sparked more investment in fiber, but it's hard to see how they're really driving demand right now. But fine, presidents of both parties have always taken credit for everything that looks good, and blamed bad news on fate.

Still, our national goals look pretty paltry next to what some other countries already have. Bush's definition of broadband is the same one most policymakers are using – ie, the basic DSL or cable modem is fine. That's nothing to sneeze at, but most of our interviews with industry types say the real societal and economic changes happen when we get to next-generation speeds and services. Like, say, Korea is doing now .

As we've also pointed out repeatedly over the last few days, there are serious structural problems in the market. Communications regulations are badly outdated. Massive companies are capturing huge market shares, with only the barest whisper of effective competition coming down the pike. If you trust your phone company or cable company to treat you right, give you good customer service, and continually upgrade you to speeds as fast as technology can efficiently provide – all with minimal competition – then more power to you.