November 1, 2010 - 11:59 am

Most of the time, when commentators talk about the benefits of broadband, they focus on its impact on economic development, and for good reason. Jobs are a central concern for almost anyone in American public life today, and high-speed broadband can bring real benefits.

Consider Chattanooga, Tennessee’s recent announcement that it will offer 1 Gbps service to all 170,000 customers in its service area by the end of this year. Companies are saying that having access to a high-performance fiber network is a significant factor in their decisions to expand in the area, and Chattanooga is already seeing large business expansion and small business relocation.

But doctors, teachers and engineers are also showing that broadband can benefit our ability to achieve national priorities like improving health outcomes, educating our children and making our electric grid smarter. High-speed connectivity is allowing doctors to practice telemedicine, treating patients hundreds of miles away who would otherwise have little access to advanced care. It’s enabling educators to extend learning beyond mere words – from describing historic events like the first women to fly or enter space, to – at the click of a mouse – showing actual video and audio footage of events like Amelia Earhart's flight across the Atlantic or the launch of Challenger. And, it’s helping electric utilities manage energy use and reduce bills for their customers.

In short, broadband is the foundation both for economic opportunity and social prosperity in the 21st century.  Like electricity or telephones in prior generations, it is hard to imagine an enabling technology more vital to our future.