While environmental factors such as weather and population density can have a major effect on broadband adoption, government policies can also help with adoption and rollout, Atkinson said. Instead of major spending projects, which could face major opposition, the recent ITIF report called for the U.S. government to take several smaller steps to encourage broadband rollout.
The U.S. government should adopt more favorable tax policies, allowing broadband network operators to depreciate their investments in next-generation networks faster, the report said. The ITIF recommended that the government make more wireless spectrum available, expand and reform programs aimed at delivering telecom services to rural areas, fund state programs already working to expand broadband deployment, such as the Connected Nation program.
In addition, U.S. residents have to decide what they want: fast broadband or broadband competition, Atkinson said. Part of the problem with the debate about broadband in the U.S. is that many groups have conflicting goals, with many consumer groups pushing for more competition, he said.
More competition is "completely incompatible" with super fast speeds, he added. Building competing broadband networks is an inefficient way to get faster networks, Atkinson said.
"This is not the widget industry," he added. "Competition works well in the widget industry because the fixed costs are fairly low."
U.S. policies should instead focus on rollout and speed, Atkinson added. "The goal should be to get as much broadband to as many people as possible," he said.
Atkinson and Link Hoewing, assistant vice president of Internet and technology issues at Verizon, both see potential in the Connected Nation model, a program started in Kentucky that uses state and private funding to push broadband into areas that don't have it.
Several other states are trying to replicate the Kentucky model that has expanded broadband availability from 60 percent of households in the state to 95 percent of households since January 2004. Verizon and other providers are working with states to map unserved areas and expand coverage, Hoewing said.
In rural areas in other states, "we've got some work to do," he added.
Like the PFF's Swanson, Hoewing pointed to the current broadband policy -- the FCC's deregulation approach. The more government-centric approach in countries like Japan and South Korea wouldn't work in the U.S., he said.
Competition in the U.S. between telecom and cable companies are driving up speeds and driving down costs, he said. Broadband speeds in the U.S. are already competitive with many other counties, he added. "It's pretty evident competition is there," he said.
But for InteliCloud's Hubbard, the U.S. broadband industry is moving too slow, and it's time for the government to take a more proactive approach.
"I think they will get there, but it may be another 10 years to get there," he said. "We need to charge our slow growth into fast growth."