As the political gears in the United States’ electoral machine begin to pick up speed, it’s fascinating to see the topics that are driving discussion. As you would expect, economic growth, employment and social welfare are some of the hot issues being bandied around by potential candidates. Yet one topic that has been largely absent from this early round of dialogue is the state of the country’s transport and communications infrastructure. Looking at some of the latest figures, this may be something that is about to change.
A recent Economist article highlights the critical condition of the country’s heavily overburdened air, rail and road systems. According to research from the World Economic Forum, the country’s infrastructure has actually deteriorated in recent years. In a global 2010 poll, the US was ranked 23rd for its transport systems. With much of the country travelling on antiquated air and rail networks or using roads that have fallen into disrepair, it isn’t surprising to find that this is impacting upon journey times.
Figures from the US Census Bureau reveals that US commuters spend significantly longer than Europeans commuting; upto 30 minutes more when compared to some continental countries. What’s more, there appears to be no relief in sight. With available budgets to improve transport systems lower than at any time since the 1960s and with the population set to grow by 40% over the next few decades, there’s a clear challenge ahead.
One of the keys to alleviating the demand on the transport infrastructure is to reduce the need to travel, especially in regards to the country’s workforce. Across the US, there’s already been a significant growth in mobile workers and this shows no signs of slowing. As I mentioned in an earlier post, the development in our global networks is leading to a greater state of connectedness and the emergence of what Om Malik refers to as ‘the human cloud.’
The drive to promote teleworking is something President Obama appears to understand. Last year Obama introduced the Telework Enhancement Act designed to encourage government agencies to support employees who wish to work from home. The government’s involvement here is certain to encourage the public sector to follow suit and will help to alleviate fears regarding the security of cloud-based operations that are critical for successful teleworking. But challenges still remain.
If the true promise of teleworking is to be achieved, the US will certainly need to focus on its network infrastructure. In an FCC report released this week, detailing the condition of the world’s broadband networks, the US was ranked ninth out of 29 countries, both for fixed and mobile penetration. Approximately 26 million Americans have no broadband access and more than 100 million who do have access choose not to subscribe. The FCC clearly has considerable work ahead if it’s to move forward with its National Broadband Plan and achieve critical goals.
However, things are improving. The US has climbed the broadband leaderboard a little and this is largely the result of the $65 billion of capital expenditures in 2010. Yet more needs to happen. Broadband has incredible potential to radically alter how Americans work, driving productivity and greater innovation. The video below provides a good overview of the current situation in the US and explores how other countries are addressing similar issues.
What do you think to state of US infrastructure? What are the challenges to developing a true connected nation, one that can respond to new business opportunities? I’d be interested to hear from you on this one.