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The Capital Times (Madison, Wisconsin)

Bush's Digital Dysfunction


President Bush does not use e-mail. The most secretive chief executive since Richard Nixon does not want to risk having his digital communications revealed as part of the official record of the republic he is sworn to serve and protect.

Other Americans do rely on the Internet, however.

Unfortunately, our off-line president has set the tone for a White House that is almost ridiculously disengaged when it comes to the challenge of preparing the United States for a digital future.

A Bush administration report released Thursday claims that high-speed Internet access is now available to virtually every American. This self-congratulatory document suggests that, during Bush's tenure, the United States has taken the right steps to ensure that we have "an environment in which broadband innovation and competition can flourish."

In fact, nothing could be further from the truth.

When George Bush assumed the presidency in 2001, the United States ranked fourth when it came to broadband penetration -- the measure of access to digital services.

Now, as Bush enters his last year in office, the United States has dropped to 15th place.

"Declaring mission accomplished won't reverse America's rapid disappearance from the ranks of world broadband leaders. Just ask the tens of millions of Americans still stranded on the wrong side of the digital divide," says Derek Turner, who has authored several reports criticizing failed U.S. broadband policies.

"Americans pay far more for much slower Internet connections -- when they can get service at all -- than the rest of the world. Too many people still live in areas that cable and telecom companies refuse to serve, and many more can only purchase slow and expensive connections that can't in all seriousness be called broadband," explained Turner, who serves as research director for Free Press, the nation's media reform network. "Yet while the Bush administration stands by and cheers over Internet connections barely faster than dial-up, countries like England and South Korea are bringing affordable and fast broadband to their citizens. Americans will be left on the sidelines as these countries reap the huge economic and social benefits of innovative technologies."

"What do these countries have that we don't?" asks Turner.

His answer: "A national broadband policy that goes beyond empty platitudes."

That's right, but it is only part of the explanation. Other countries also have leaders who read newspapers, watch television news programs and use e-mail.

America has George Bush.

© 2008 Capital Newspaper

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