March 21, 2010
A Plan for Broadband
The Federal Communications Commission’s broadband strategy comes not a moment too soon. High-speed Internet is on its way to replacing the telephone as the nation’s primary means of communication.
But the United States is woefully behind in building the physical systems to support this transformation. That will require federal money, incentives to private businesses, and updates in the regulatory system.
Fewer than 27 out of every 100 Americans have broadband service, compared with 33 in South Korea and 38 in the Netherlands. The average advertised download speed is 8 megabits per second; in France, it is 51. And according to a study by the F.C.C., the average download in the United States occurs at about half the advertised speed. Meanwhile, the poor, the elderly and other vulnerable groups remain cut off from broadband technology, and therefore from such things as online government services, medical advice and jobs.
The F.C.C.’s blueprint offers a feasible path to address these lacunae, unleash investment in the broadband network and foster competition among service providers. The core goal is to bring broadband to 100 million homes at download speeds of at least 100 megabits per second by 2020, and to vastly expand broadband over the airwaves.
The ambitious plan is likely to attract hostility from corporations — like TV broadcasters and telecommunications companies. They have legitimate concerns, but, in general, Congress should provide all the assistance the F.C.C. needs to achieve its goals.
A likely flashpoint is the F.C.C.’s determination to foster competition. Lack of competition is perhaps the main reason broadband prices remain so high and speeds so low, especially compared with other countries.
Lack of competition allows big wire-line telecom companies to charge big fees to carry the signals of mobile providers over their wires. Telecom companies argue, with reason, that competition goes beyond wires — that many other companies that are unregulated also are intrinsic to the development of broadband access.
Congress has to sort this out. The F.C.C.’s authority to police broadband is already limited and is being challenged in court. Congress may need to clarify the F.C.C.’s authority. Other parts of the commission’s plan will also require specific legislation.
For instance, the F.C.C. needs Congress to approve a plan to repurpose 120 megahertz of surplus TV spectrum for mobile broadband, to meet the mushrooming demand from powerful new wireless devices like iPhone or Google’s Droid. Congress must give the go-ahead so the commission can entice broadcasters to relinquish spectrum by offering them a slice of the revenue of the auction of airwaves to broadband providers.
The F.C.C. also needs Congress’s approval to spend money on a new wireless broadband network for use by emergency services, and to repurpose about $8 billion a year from the Universal Service Fund, established decades ago to ensure phones got to hard-to-reach places, to do that with broadband Internet access.
These goals are long overdue, but that makes them no less essential to taking full advantage of the Internet’s promise to improve American competitiveness.
When you see certain statistics cherry picked and assembled to form a ransom note it is hard to take the rest of the article seriously.
This editorial pisses me off in two ways:
- It uses the broadband adoption rate to claim that South Korean and the Netherlands are ahead of the USA
- It then points to the speed of the US broadband connections and purports that we are behind.
The fact is that the United States has the largest, most expansive Internet backbone and access network in the world. Period.
Today carriers are putting in 40Gbit trunk circuits (OC768) to accommodate the explosion of demand. The OC768 interfaces that terminate the fiber optic circuits have just recently come onto market and are prohibitively expensive. There are only a small group of equipment manufactures with the technical acumen to bring such advanced electronics and optics to market.
The reason why I am so sure that this type of "pop technology activism" rings hollow is because in order for these claims to be vetted out in a legitimate "apples to apples" comparison one would need to look at the infrastructure between the nations being compared to validate these claims.
Let us accept the claim that average download speed in France is 51Mbps. The first thing I would question is the trunk circuits upon the backbone in France and the "pass rate" - meaning how many houses this high speed link is accessible from. Next I would note that in the cable Internet access world - DOCSIS3.0 and ultra-high speed DSL have just recently made it onto the market. What access technology is France using and how did they install it so quickly if this number is legitimate?
Next let's talk about bandwidth in the first place. What does 100Mb in access provide to a consumer today? Let's pretend that it allows them to stream 4 HD video streams at one time. Great I am all for it. Where is this content available today? The traditional broadcast networks have their content contracted with traditional broadcast/cable/satellite distributors. Where are the agreements for them to release first run content over the Internet for streaming?
Bottom line - I understand that the "Progressive Technologists" are seeking to use such muckraking to push the American carriers to move faster than they would otherwise. I am resistant to the false claims because they paint a false picture. The spirit of anti-corporate angst seems to be the undergarment upon which much of these claims are founded upon.
I am a supporter of high speed broadband and wireless. I will be among the first to use them.Common sense tells me that superfast bandwidth at the edge while super expensive infrastructure in the core does not add up to super cheap broadband access without some serious oversubscription for the purposes of ROI.