Monday, April 05, 2010

US Broadband Plan Overdue

Recently the FCC released its much anticipated strategy for addressing the United State’s failure to provide universally available and affordable high speed broadband services. It may come as a surprise to many that US citizens have much slower access to the Internet than many much smaller and less affluent nations. The RoadRunner or Zoomtown offerings that we have available from Time Warner or Cincinnati Bell would seem like “dial up” to someone in South Korea, France or even Portugal.

There are many reasons why many of these countries are ahead of us. Some governments have been quicker than others to see the importance of universally available high speed access to the Internet for their economies to prosper. Other countries are ahead of us since they do not have in place an extensive legacy infrastructure which must be integrated into any new one. This is certainly a big issue in our country. In fact many developing counties will never have a hard wired telephone system since the installation of a cellular system is more economical and quicker to deploy.

No matter the reasons for our current less-than-adequate system, the new FCC Broadband initiative does a good job of identifying the problems and suggesting steps that need to be taken to address them. It also articulates the tremendous importance to our economy to be leaders in the digital era. While the FCC can make recommendations, it will be up to the Congress to find the funds to actually make the changes.

There are four major areas of concentration in the FCC’s Broadband plan. The first calls for policies to ensure robust competition and investment in the private sector.

The second calls for the efficient allocation and management of government controlled assets, such as spectrum, poles, and rights-of-way, to encourage network upgrades to these assets. This includes examining the wireless bandwidth now allocated to broadcasters to see if some of those channels would be better used for wireless broadband instead of radio and TV transmissions.

The third recommendation calls for reform of current Universal Service policies so that broadband services will be made available in high cost areas; and ensure that low-income Americans can afford broadband. It also supports efforts to boost adoption and utilization. The Universal Service concept began some 60 years ago to make sure telephone service was available in rural parts of the country. Expanding it to broadband seems only logical.

Finally, the FCC plan calls for the reform of laws, policies, standards and incentives to maximize the benefits of broadband in sectors that the government influences significantly, such as public education, health care and government operations.

The release of this plan is only the beginning. Over the next few years much discussion and debate will center on improving the availability and speed of our Broadband networks. I’ll try to give you updates on this critical issue.

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