Taking Broadband Lessons from South Korea; Focus on Protecting America's Creative Industries
Byline: Mark Esper, SPECIAL TO THE WASHINGTON TIMES
In March, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) released its proposed National Broadband Strategy - a grand plan to ensure all Americans have high-speed Internet access in the coming years. This is a vitally important goal, given the impact such an achievement could have on our economy and society, and the FCC should be commended for its efforts.
However, one cannot overlook the missed opportunity the FCC had to address one of the most egregious problems facing the U.S. economy today: the rampant theft of intellectual property (IP) on the Internet. Illegal online activities - from the stealing of copyrighted materials, such as music and movies, to the counterfeiting of goods, such as pharmaceuticals and apparel - are killing American jobs, stifling our recovery, and doing great harm to America's creative industries. Consumers are being harmed as well, by inferior or toxic goods being sold online. Unfortunately, the FCC's 300-page document pays almost no attention to IP theft, let alone ways to stop it, despite the prominence given this worsening problem by Congress and the White House, as well as by business and labor.
Copyright industries have long been important to the U.S. economy, representing more than 11 percent of our gross domestic product (GDP) and more than 8 percent of America's work force, and growing at a rate that is twice that of the U.S. economy as a whole. Copyright industries provided more than 22 percent of the nation's total real growth from 2006 to 2007, and in 2007 alone these industries provided 5.6 million jobs to the economy. And beyond the economic value of these sectors, movies, music, software and books have spread American culture around the world for generations, and helped advance the sharing of knowledge, all in countless ways that accrue positively for the United States in the long run.
The Internet has brought benefits to mankind in ways too numerous to list. At the same time, an online subculture has emerged where some folks think that the laws and norms of the physical world don't exist in the online environment. While we all know it is a crime to steal a CD from a store shelf or shoplift a DVD, many think such rules don't apply on the Internet. A common view among this subculture is that if you can find it online, then taking it isn't a crime. Many also think illegal downloading is a victimless crime. This attitude not only has a direct detrimental financial impact on the copyright industries and creative community, it poisons the well for the overwhelming number of law-abiding folks who seek to consume legal content.
More than 90 percent of all Internet-based music is downloaded illegally. The rate for movies is growing, and similar problems exist for software, books and other copyrighted works. All of this IP theft results in forgone sales, which eventually translates into lost jobs and reinvestment. In the long term, the result may be fewer movies, songs and books if artists, authors and other creators - and the investors they depend on - don't think the fruits of their hard work will be protected and rewarded. These facts, coupled with the equally damaging problem of counterfeit goods being sold online, have made IP theft on the Internet a serious economic and social problem, threatening not only jobs and economic growth, but consumer welfare as well. That's why the FCC's failure to seriously address online IP theft is so breathtaking and troubling.
Yet if these alarm bells ring hollow, one should look to the experience of South Korea for lessons learned on devising a national broadband plan.
Over the last decade, South Korea has built a vibrant Internet and communications environment that many view as a paragon of broadband network access. …