"Action will be required by governments at all levels and the private sector to deploy broadband infrastructure to the last 5 percent of households at a reasonable cost and to promote broadband usage and adoption by increasing digital literacy and making broadband services more affordable for certain populations, especially the elderly and the economically disadvantaged," states the report, prepared by the U.S. Government Accountability Office.
Additionally, many people who have access to broadband aren't subscribing to it because of the cost, the GAO says in the report. A December 2009 report by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development found that the U.S. ranked 15th in broadband penetration among the 30 countries surveyed.
As part of the report, the GAO examined seven countries with broadband deployment or adoption rates higher than the U.S. -- Canada, France, Japan, the Netherlands, South Korea, Sweden, and the United Kingdom. Those countries employed several strategies, including public-private partnerships, digital literacy training and consumer subsidies. But one tactic in particular stands out: Six of those countries required wireline service providers to open their networks and provide wholesale access to competitors.
Some advocacy groups have long called for similar policies in the U.S. They argue that without rules requiring ISPs to share their lines, many people will have a choice of, at most, two wireline providers -- their cable company or telecom. Groups like Free Press and Public Knowledge argue that the existing duopoly system has helped keep prices relatively high and speeds relatively slow.
To date, the Federal Communications Commission hasn't appeared interested in requiring Internet service providers to sell their lines at wholesale prices, and many observers think it isn't likely that the current administration would ever support that plan.
Still, the new report is giving advocates some additional ammunition. "The GAO report confirms what consumer advocates have been telling policymakers for years: The U.S. needs policies that foster real competition among broadband providers if we wish to regain our position as a global technology leader," Free Press policy director Derek Turner said in a statement. "If the FCC wants to get serious about solving our broadband problem, then it must be willing to stand up to the powerful phone and cable broadband duopoly by implementing policies that bring meaningful competition to consumers."