2011 proved to be a mixed year for broadband deployment and adoption in the United States.
On the positive side, the explosive growth in new applications, services, devices and consumer offerings led to considerable innovation and relentless competition. The marketplace remains vibrant with great potential for continued growth. A Federal Communications Commission (FCC) analysis found that 90 percent of all Americans presently enjoy a choice of at least five competing wireless broadband providers, with mobile broadband services leading the information technology revolution. From gaming to health care to government efficiency, broadband applications were increasingly powerful, prevalent and delivered over the cloud.
Also on the positive side, the FCC offered a promising Universal Service Fund (USF) Reform package intended to modernize this essential program from a 20th century “plain old telephone service over land lines” model to a 21st century “broadband by any means” approach.
“This long overdue transformation of Universal Service to a competitive and efficient broadband program promises to provide essential help to rural communities and entrepreneurs across the nation. The FCC reforms will eventually help narrow America’s digital divide, but more solutions will be needed to fully accomplish this goal.”
On the negative side, the biggest and best opportunity to expand 4G LTE broadband availability to more than 97 percent of all Americans — AT&T’s proposed merger with T Mobile — fell victim to Washington concerns that bigger might prove worse, despite considerable evidence that the merger would bring significant benefits to consumers, create jobs and spur innovation and investment in the wireless industry.
“There are some in Washington who believe innovation comes from government programs, investment comes from government subsidies, and competition comes from government regulation. But this past decade has taught us that the mobile broadband ecosystem is incredibly competitive, dynamic and only in need of more efficient ways to aggregate spectrum to keep pace. Government is more often the problem than solution here. Federal regulators would do better to focus their attention on updating the outdated laws currently governing our telecom infrastructure.”
While policymakers finally seem prepared to advance meaningful spectrum reform, the long-awaited legislation fell victim to broader partisan disagreements over taxes and government spending. Legislation enabling incentive auctions seems poised for early passage in 2012, although the value and impact of such policies could be significantly constrained if FCC rules governing spectrum ownership prove overly cumbersome.
“The spectrum crunch remains all too real and may be the single biggest barrier to achieving universal broadband in our nation. While mobile broadband appears poised to close the digital divide for minorities and rural consumers, it can only do so if the bandwidth is available to wireless carriers to build out the needed infrastructure.”
IIA enters 2012 with the hope that the New Year will present viable opportunities to increase broadband investment, deployment and adoption; the belief that lawmakers in Washington can enable and encourage broadband growth; and the admonition (and founding IIA tenet) that policymakers must first do no harm.