June/July 2005
By Alan W. Dowd

Cyberspace Race
New research published in the journal Foreign Affairs reveals a surprising and worrisome trend for America’s decades-old dominance of the Internet. Even though the Internet was born in America, as an outgrowth of Pentagon research in the 1960s, the U.S. has plunged to 13th place globally in usage of broadband Internet service. Broadband is a high-speed (and relatively high-priced) Internet delivery system that comes into most U.S. homes via the same lines that carry cable television.

While the U.S. has floundered in the cyberspace race, Japan has surged ahead in a range of categories. According to Thomas Bleha, a former State Department official with specialties in technology and Asia, Japan boasts:

-a higher percentage of homes with broadband service;

-wide availability of “high-speed” broadband, which moves information 16 times faster than traditional broadband connections; and

-cheaper subscription fees, averaging just $22 per month (about half what most Americans pay for their broadband connection)

Plus, Bleha notes that Japan is on the verge of offering “ultra-high-speed broadband, which runs through fiber-optic cable”—at a monthly cost of $30 to $40. He credits Japan’s broadband dominance to the government’s decision in 2000 to become “the world’s leading IT nation by 2005.” While Tokyo offered an IT Apollo Project, the Bush administration has largely taken a laissez-faire attitude and allowed the market to drive construction of Internet infrastructure, according to Bleha. The result is, well, 13th place.

Japan is not alone at the top of the broadband food chain. South Korea has the largest percentage of broadband customers on earth, while China just recently passed the U.S. as the largest broadband market (in terms of sheer numbers of users). According to Bleha, such broadband dominance positions this trio of economic powers to conduct commerce faster, to increase business productivity, and to push ahead in the field of technological innovation—all of which will spur economic growth and further challenge the U.S.

Operation Iranian Freedom?
Seizing upon the momentum for freedom that is transforming the Middle East, a bipartisan group of senators has introduced a bill to promote democracy in Iran.  

Dubbed the “Iran Freedom and Support Act of 2005,” S.333 would make it US policy “to support efforts by the people of Iran to exercise self determination” and “to actively support a national referendum in Iran with oversight by international observers and monitors.”  

Toward that end, the bill would earmark a modest sum of $10,000,000 for pro-democracy efforts in Iran and authorize the president to provide financial and political assistance to individuals and organizations in Iran that: 

-oppose terrorism

-promote nonproliferation in Iran

-support democratic reform of the government in Iran

-respect human rights, “including the fundamental equality of women”

-support the equality of opportunity

-support freedom of the press, freedom of speech, freedom of association, and freedom of religion

The bill, which is sponsored by Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Penn.), also calls on the president to appoint a special advisor for Iranian issues and to intensify efforts to halt Iran’s nuclear weapons program.

As a contributing editor to The American Legion, Dowd writes columns and news briefs on national security, foreign affairs and U.S. politics each month for the magazine's "Rapid Fire" section.