YouTube generation needs more broadband

Technology industry experts meeting in Silicon Valley recently said broadband Internet access in the U.S. needs to improve for the “YouTube generation” to really flourish.

“We need real broadband,” said Walter Mossberg, a product reviewer and technology columnist at the Wall Street Journal , one of a panel of tech industry observers commenting at a forum at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, Calif. He described the broadband network in the U.S. as “pathetic” compared to what’s available in other countries.

An improved broadband network will better serve users of sites such as YouTube.com, at which millions of videos from the general public are shared online. YouTube was acquired earlier this year by Google, and Verizon Wireless announced in November plans to offer YouTube videos over its wireless phone network.

Although the U.S. broadband penetration rate topped 75 percent of households in September and is expected to reach 80 percent by the end of 2006, according to WebSiteOptimization.com, China is expected to surpass the U.S. as its broadband base grows rapidly. But more importantly, says Mossberg, U.S. broadband networks are generally slower than those in other countries. Faster connections will be needed to deliver full-motion video to portable devices. Services that deliver as little as 768 kilobits per second (Kbps) are considered broadband in the U.S., while services in Europe and elsewhere are much faster.

“I was in a pub in Dublin, Ireland, and I was getting 30 megabits per second (Mbps), wireless. And it was free,” said Greg Harper, a strategic adviser for Trans World Entertainment, which operates retail music and video entertainment stores in malls and online.

The U.S. needs to spur greater investment in its broadband network, said Kara Swisher, another Wall Street Journal technology columnist.

“The government has got to get behind this, like it did with the public highways,” Swisher said, referring to the federal government’s investment in the interstate highway system beginning in the 1950s.

The panel also discussed some of the more innovative devices of 2006, such the Apple video iPod, the Microsoft Zune portable music player, and the Nintendo Wii game console. Panelists said 2007 will see more growth of on-demand content, such as music videos, television shows and movies, and more demand for easier connectivity between devices.

The growth of sites like YouTube is creating “massive amounts of content and there is going to be a continuing need to take and distribute that content. That will spur innovation of more consumer devices,” said Chad Hurley, cofounder of YouTube.

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