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See Inside February 2011

Readers Respond to "Can You Hear Me Now?" and Other Articles

Letters to the editor from the October 2010 issue of Scientific American


Broader Broadband
Competition and the Internet” [Science Agenda] is overly simplistic when it argues that broadband in the U.S. is too expensive and too slow.

Today’s most advanced applications typically require seven megabits per second of bandwidth or less, far below the capabilities of most U.S. wireline broad­band. This is presumably why a recent Fed­­eral Communications Commission survey found that 91 percent of U.S. broadband users were “very” or “somewhat” satisfied with their speeds, and another study found that consumers were not willing to pay much for extra speed. Indeed, consumers in most countries typically subscribe to slower speeds than the highest available. Also, although very high speed connections in the U.S. are quite expensive relative to many developed countries, prices for slower connections compare favorably.

But most important, your editorial focuses entirely on wirelines, although wireless broadband is booming and already affects Internet use, innovation and investment. If fostering competition is the real policy objective, wireless broadband—­not net neutrality—has the real potential to enhance competition, especially at slower speeds. Fostering wireless growth is far more important than getting a 100-Mbps connection in every home.
Scott Wallsten
Vice president for research, Technology Policy Institute, Washington, D.C.

Spectrum of Choices
As parents of a four-year-old who was diagnosed to be on the autism spectrum (the subject of Nancy Shute’s “Desperate for an Autism Cure”) at 15 months of age, we have spent countless hours researching, measuring, experimenting and hoping for something, anything really, that could improve our son’s quality of life. Our search began with conventional medicine, and we frankly hoped it would end there. But the stark reality is that conventional medicine has offered no answers at all and has seemingly been more concerned with vilifying treatments that do not require pharmaceutical intervention.
Gary Latham
Columbia, Md.

Energy Density
Antonio Regalado’s “Reinventing the Leaf” primarily discusses Caltech’s Nathan S. Lewis’s solar energy process, in which water is the base fuel, but there is no mention of water sources. Does the water have to be clean? Is the technology aimed specifically at water-rich places? Or if water desalination is necessary, is the project still worthwhile?
Dov Rhodes
Haifa, Israel

LEWIS REPLIES: The water does have to be clean, but in fact we hardly use any. It is not used for cooling but as the precursor to store the energy in the split forms of hydrogen and oxygen. And it takes a very small amount of hydrogen to store an enormous amount of energy—more than 100 times as much as in a lithium battery of the same weight. Also, the water would be recycled and could come from rainwater or, in many cases, even water vapor.

So water is not really an issue. Demonstrating the technology and getting it to work are much more pressing concerns for us at this stage.

Income Gap
In “Closing the Health Gap” [The Science of Health], Christine Gorman is exactly on target about the need for primary care except for one glaring omission: medi­­cal specialists will typically earn at least three times as much as primary care physicians in return for having spent two or three additional years of training. Until this income gap is resolved, the probability of significant numbers of physicians choosing primary care as a specialty is very small indeed.
David S. Grauman, M.D.
Fairbanks, Alaska

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