From Steel City to Fiber City: FCC’s Visions Of A Digital Future From Pittsburgh

At a July 21 hearing on broadband communications and the digital future at Carnegie Mellon University – FCC commissioner Michael J. Copps made a humorous, yet intriguing statement on Pittsburgh’s role in developing communications infrastructure in the U.S.

As part of a three-volume series of musings on communications infrastructure, I now offer you the thoughts of FCC commissioner Michael J. Copps, delivered during last night’s “Broadband Communications and The Digital Future” conference at Carnegie Mellon University:

Some of you may have seen ESPN’s recent competition on what great American city should be called “Titletown.” Certainly when we think of Pittsburgh many of us think of Terry Bradshaw and the Steelers, Willie Stargell and the Pirates, Mario Lemieux and the Penguins. But what should really come to mind is how this great sports town is transforming itself into a vibrant, high-tech city that can lead the country into the age of digital technology. So I’m looking forward to learning about this great city’s technological genius and how it can be channeled into overcoming the challenges that face all of us in the years ahead. FCC Commissioner Michael J. Copps

Commissioner Deborah Tate seconded the notion, adding to the importance of the growing broadband industry:

Broadband technology is a key driver of growth across many sectors of the American economy, with the ability to share large amounts of information at ever-increasing speeds increasing productivity, facilitating commerce, driving innovation, and even assisting in reducing our energy consumption. Notably, Internet providers continue to invest billions of dollars to upgrade and expand their networks. Spending on broadband networks was $15 billion in 2007 and is expected to dramatically rise to $23 billion by 2010. The Commission’s most recent report on broadband deployment shows that the U.S. remains the largest broadband market in the world, and finds continued dramatic growth in broadband deployment to over 100 million lines as of June 2007, an increase of 55%.FCC Commissioner Deborah Tate

Commissioner Copps echoed his colleague’s enthusiasm toward broadband growth, even going so far as to declare broadband access as a “civil right.” Although broadband penetration has improved steadily over the last several years, a number of obstacles, specifically cost and regulation, continues to limit access. According to the Pew Research Center, 55 percent of adult Americans now have broadband access at home, compared with 47 percent one year ago. Only 10 percent of adults currently use dial-up Internet at home. Despite these promising figures, broadband growth among poor Americans and African Americans has stagnated.

Southeastern Pennsylvania has seen mixed indicators in several technology sectors over recent years. While some sectors, such as Information Technology and Advanced Manufacturing, have shown decreases in the numbers of companies and individuals employed, overall, payrolls and average wages are on the rise. According to the Pittsburgh Technology Council’s State of the Industry Report for 2007, while the IT sector in the 13-county region saw total employment drop by 7.7 percent between 2003 and 2005, total payroll and average wages rose by 1.6 percent and 6.8 percent, respectively.

Other industries have demonstrated substantial growth. According to the report, Environmental Technology jobs increased by 7.2 percent, boasting a payroll just under $2 billion.

Some key points for discussion-

Are techno-grads flocking to Pittsburgh?
Is it possible that communications technology could jumpstart the Rust Belt?
Why did FCC commissioners call Pittsburgh “the perfect venue” for discussions on broadband and digital infrastructure?


Tags: infrastructureinternet accesspittsburghanchor institutions

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