In response to the FCC’s 706 Broadband Report — particularly the report’s claim that broadband deployment is not “reasonable and timely” — Bret Swanson of Entropy Economics (he’s also one of our Broadband Ambassadors) writes:
Even if we stipulate the FCC’s framework, data, and analysis, we’re still left with the FCC’s own admission that between June 2010 and June 2011, an additional 7.4 million Americans gained access to fixed broadband service. That dropped the portion of Americans without access to 6% in 2011 from around 8.55% in 2010 — a 30% drop in the unserved population in one year. Most Americans have had broadband for many years, and the rate of deployment will necessarily slow toward the tail-end of any build-out. When most American households are served, there just aren’t very many to go, and those that have yet to gain access are likely to be in the very most difficult to serve areas (e.g. “on tops of mountains in the middle of nowhere”). The fact that we still added 7.4 million broadband in the last year, lowering the unserved population by 30%, even using the FCC’s faulty framework, demonstrates in any rational world that broadband “is being deployed” in a “reasonable and timely fashion.”
But this is not the rational world — it’s D.C. in the perpetual political silly season.
In what could prove to be a major step in closing America’s digital divide, President Obama is signing an Executive Order today aimed at making broadband deployment faster and easier. From the White House website:
The Executive Order (EO) will require the Departments of Agriculture, Commerce, Defense, Interior, Transportation, and Veterans Affairs as well as the US Postal Service to offer carriers a single approach to leasing Federal assets for broadband deployment. The EO also requires that available Federal assets and the requirements for leasing be provided on departmental websites, and it will require public tracking of regional broadband deployment projects via the Federal Infrastructure Projects Dashboard. In addition, the Executive Order will direct departments to help carriers time their broadband deployment activities to periods when streets are already under construction—an approach that can reduce network deployment costs along Federal roadways by up to 90 percent.
The EO also launches an effort being called “US Ignite,” which is aimed at connecting communities and campuses with 1 gigabit/second broadband in order to promote the public good. Again, from the Order:
This network will become a test-bed for designing and deploying next-generation applications to support national priorities areas such as education, healthcare, energy, and advanced manufacturing. US Ignite will challenge students, startups, and industry leaders to create a new generation of applications and services that meet the needs of local communities while creating a broad range of job and investment opportunities. This initiative will open up countless new opportunities for households and small businesses, helping them experience the economic and community benefits of next-gen applications while demonstrating a path for other communities to join.
There’s an old saying that the longest journey begins with a single step. It’s important to keep that saying in mind as we, as a nation, work to fulfill President Obama’s goal of bringing advanced wireless broadband services to all Americans.
The figures involved are staggering. At one point in 2009, the FCC offered an estimate that ubiquitous broadband could cost up to $350 billion — that’s almost 10 percent of the entire Federal budget for 2011 or about half the defense budget. Obviously, the government has other things to which it has committed money — Medicare, defense, education, housing – and money of this sort is simply not available for the asking, even if we were not living in times of large Federal deficits.
Even if $350 billion isn’t the right number, it is going to take a lot of money to be sure all Americans have equal access to the opportunities afforded by the broadband revolution.
Fortunately, there is a better way. Actually, there are two better ways.
The first is to harness the resources of the private sector. The good news is that private telecom companies are already eagerly playing their part in wiring America for the future. Telecom companies made tens of billions of dollars in investments last year alone, and much of that investment is focused on getting advanced broadband services (usually marketed as 4G) deployed in hundreds — soon to be thousands — of cities across the country. Those investments also promote wireline connections and maintain existing service for earlier wireless systems and networks.
The second better way is to focus on wireless rather than just wireline to make the connections of the future. America’s a big country and the best and quickest way to reach millions of Americans living in rural areas will be through advanced wireless services. These will offer the same speeds and ease of access that Americans in cities and suburbs enjoy and the deployments can be achieved much more quickly. At the very least, 4G wireless gives us another tool to reach more Americans; at the best, it provides a solution that reflects the needs of rural America as well as urban dwellers checking their smartphones or tablet computers.
But that smallest step I mentioned earlier? That’s important, too.
The FCC has just announced a $300 million grant for broadband deployment to rural areas. That sounds like a pittance in comparison with the private investment now taking place, but as the Commission notes, it “expects that carriers will likely supplement the [government] funding with private investment. While carriers are not required to participate, hundreds of thousands of Americans will gain access to broadband even if carriers only accept a portion of the money.” For those hundreds of thousands, access to broadband will open a new world of opportunity for business, jobs, education, healthcare, and entertainment. It puts rural America on an equal footing for competitiveness, and that alone makes the FCC program worthy of our support.
But as the FCC recognized, not only is much more needed, but the lion’s share of effort and investment will come from the private sector. The director of the National Broadband Plan seconded this view in stating that “[w]e have to recognize that most of this [broadband deployment] is funded by the private sector, and we expect that to continue.”
In short, government has a vital role to play, but only with private sector investment can we reach our national goal of near ubiquitous broadband. That’s why, in a global marketplace for capital, it is so important to ensure that the right regulatory policies are in place to attract capital to telecom — and to America. Private sector network operators have proven they are willing to make bold investments, if federal policy makers do not put up regulatory barriers to investment. And with the right mix of regulatory policies, strategic investment by the government, and large-scale private investment, all Americans can have 21st-century high speed advanced broadband services. It’s important for our economy and our future.
Yesterday at the Newseum in Washington, D.C., we held our latest broadband symposium, “Realizing Deployment of Next Generation Broadband Services and Applications to All of America.”
Delivering the keynote address was former Pennsylvania Governor Edward Rendell, whose long history as an advocate for infrastructure investment made him well-suited to talk about the critical need to expand America’s digital infrastructure to everyone in the nation. As he said at the start of his keynote:
”Our ability to grow economically and compete in the global marketplace is tied to our infrastructure. And when people use the term infrastructure the average citizen thinks of roads, bridges, maybe mass transit. But infrastructure today has a totally different meaning and building America’s future is dedicated no just to rebuilding and revitalizing our transportation infrastructure, which we dearly need to do, but building out our infrastructure to make us competitive in the future. That means the electric grid, which needs serious work in this country, and of course broadband technology.”
Rendell then pivoted to the challenge wireless providers are facing to keep up with unprecedented demand for mobile data:
”Today, America’s wireless industry continues to grow based on consumer demand that’s at an all time high, and the staggering growth of mobile broadband traffic is creating an explosion in new services, new devices, content and applications.”
After calling for the government and wireless industry to keep working together in order to keep meeting demand, Rendell turned to America’s growing spectrum concerns:
”The looming spectrum crunch threatens to dampen the innovation of the high-tech industry. Driven by explosive growth from mobile broadband data, spectrum exhaust — particularly in urban markets — will challenge our ability to provide the services, the us of smartphones, mobile apps, and content to consumers. Clearly there’s a need for more spectrum and everyone knows it.”
One way to quickly address America’s looming spectrum crunch, Rendell said, is the approval of the AT&T/T-Mobile merger, which the former governor is advocating for. But Rendell also made clear spectrum wasn’t the only reason the merger should be approved, and used an example from his terms as governor to help make the point:
”You know, one of the things we did in Pennsylvania that was successful is triple our exports in the eight years I was governor. One of the ways we tripled exports is we went to small and midsized companies who had zero export business and we told them that there’s a market for what you produce. And we told them the countries where that marketplace existed. And we told them how to go about reaching that marketplace, how to do exports and how to deal with the local law and customers. But many of the companies couldn’t do the marketing because they couldn’t get the access [to broadband] they needed. And after this merger, I believe in great part they will.”
In closing his keynote, Rendell tackled regulations and economic growth:
”[W]e’ve got to continue to make the regulatory system work to do its job. Regulation is important. Any suggestion that we should strip away regulations just in return for economic growth is silly. We don’t have to do it. But we have to carry out those regulations in a common sense way that allows for growth and as strong a growth as we can.”
Then the two-term governor challenged America to think big again— not just in broadband deployment, but in all areas of infrastructure:
”We always did big things. We always were fearless. We always took on challenges. And now I think we’re at a critical juncture and that American spirit has to be unleashed again. That spirit will come and that unleashing will come from letting technology do its job.”
As a broad-based coalition that has actively supported and participated in efforts to expand universal broadband availability and increase mobile connectivity for all Americans, we applaud the FCC’s laser focus on broadband as a critical infrastructure.
We also strongly support the FCC’s efforts to encourage universal broadband deployment by expanding and modernizing the complex federal Universal Service Fund (USF) and Intercarrier Compensation (ICC) rules. Expanding these programs from universal availability of plain old telephone service to the universal availability of broadband will provide Americans with the opportunity to reap the enormous economic, health, education and other benefits broadband can deliver.
Recently, key industry and association stakeholders have come together to forge and support the “America’s Broadband Connectivity Plan” (or ABC Plan), which both confirms universal access to broadband as a national priority and closely follows the FCC’s roadmap with respect to fundamental reforms in the USF and ICC rules on the books today.
We at IIA strongly support the ABC Plan, in particular its proposal to modernize USF and ICC rules to include broadband by creating a Connect America Fund (CAF) and an Advanced Mobility/Satellite Fund. We also commend the proposals to control the size of the fund and broaden its distribution base, require accountability from companies receiving support, and transition market-driven and incentive-based policies.
No household or business in America should be without access to affordable broadband services. The ABC Plan ensures that approximately four million rural homes and businesses in high-cost areas will have access to broadband — two million of which will enjoy the benefits of broadband for the first time. It will also encourage private investment and more effectively control the size of high-cost support, thereby limiting the burden these programs place on consumers.
It is generally recognized that current USF and ICC regulations, designed to support legacy voice services, are dated and in need of reform. We applaud the constructive work of the FCC and the organizations that participated in the formulation of the ABC Plan, and encourage the FCC to proceed with adopting and implementing the plan as soon as possible.
(To read our comments filed with the FCC on USF reform and the ABC Plan, visit here.)
In an op-ed for USA Today, FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski makes the case for expanding broadband access to create jobs:
Last century, building roads and bridges not only created near-term jobs coming out of the Depression, they laid the foundation for ongoing economic success by connecting communities and people across the country. Broadband can do the same in the 21st century. Yes, let’s repair our roads and bridges, but let’s also build the road to our economic future with broadband — especially when we can do both at the same time. And let’s make sure that all Americans and small businesses get connected.
Our economy is not where we want it to be. But if we harness the power of communications technology, and unleash the creativity of our great entrepreneurs, there’s much we can do to ensure our brightest days are still ahead of us.
Via George Hohmann of the Charleston Daily Mail, results from a poll of economic development professionals in West Virginia show that when it comes to job creation, broadband deployment outranks traditional infrastructure:
78 percent of the respondents say it’s been their experience that businesses considering locating in their areas place high priority on access to affordable, high-speed Internet when evaluating site selections. And 66 percent say cost and capacity of broadband service are factors more than half of the time when discussing new business prospects.
At PBS, Katia Savchuk reports on the miserable state of broadband deployment on Native American lands and efforts to remedy the situation:
Perhaps nowhere in the United States does the digital divide cut as wide as in Indian Country. More than 90 percent of tribal populations lack high-speed Internet access, and usage rates are as low as 5 percent in some areas, according to the Federal Communications Commission.
Sascha Meinrath, director of New America Foundation’s Open Technology Initiative calls it “a travesty.”
“You have a community that perhaps treasures media and cultural production more than almost any other constituency in the country, and you have an entire dearth of access to new media production and dissemination technology,” Meinrath said.
ViaThe Hill‘s Sara Jerome, Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.) has introduced a bill in the House aimed at spurring broadband deployment by mandating infrastructure be installed when federal highways are constructed:
“This legislation is a creative approach to more rapidly deploy broadband service, promote competition and do so with limited federal dollars,” Eshoo said. “This ‘dig once’ policy would expand broadband at a fraction of the cost by including the conduit as roads are being built.”
Rep. Eshoo garnered praise from the National Cable and Telecommunications Association. Their official statement:
“We applaud Rep. Eshoo for introduction of the Broadband Conduit Deployment Act of 2011, which will facilitate the further deployment of broadband service throughout the U.S. We look forward to working with the Rep. Eshoo and other policymakers on creative solutions to lower the cost of broadband deployment so that every American can benefit from this important service.”
The Technical Advisory Council (TAC), the group of telecom and media advisors formed in 2003 to give the FCC technical advice, has delivered recommendations to Chairman Genachowski on how to improve broadband access. Reports Grant Gross of PC World:
The recommendations from the 45-member TAC—most from private companies, including Google, AT&T, Dell and Apple—address both wired and mobile broadband issues. The FCC should launch a Broadband City USA contest that highlights the best ways that local governments are encouraging broadband growth and making it easy for broadband providers to install new services, the TAC recommended.
In addition, the FCC should encourage the development of so-called small cell wireless transmitters, including femtocells, distributed antenna systems (DAS) and Wi-Fi networks, the group recommended. The FCC should bring together providers, vendors and other interested groups to discuss how to accelerate the deployment of small cell devices, the TAC recommended.
The full list of TAC recommendations is available at the FCC website.
From a CNN interview with Ajai Chowdhry, CEP of global IT services provider HCL Infosystems:
African countries should invest in broadband infrastructure to improve the welfare of their people, according to Ajai Chowdhry…
The Indian entrepreneur, who is often described as India’s equivalent to Bill Gates, said access to information will be critical in solving many of the continent’s problems.
“I’ve a very strong belief that Africa should take a leadership position in putting up broadband right down to every village and you’ll see the change,” he said. “If you give people information you can actually transform Africa.”
Yesterday, the FCC released its latest report on broadband deployment. From Chairman Julius Genachowski’s statement about the report:
On Congress’s question of universality—whether all Americans are on track to being served—the best available data shows that between 14 and 24 million Americans live in areas where they cannot get broadband. These are mostly expensive-to-serve areas with low population density. Without substantial reforms to the agency’s universal service programs, these areas will continue to be unserved, denied access to the transformative power of broadband. So, taking account of the millions of Americans who, despite years of waiting, still have little prospect of getting broadband deployed to their homes, we must conclude that broadband is not being deployed to all Americans in a reasonable and timely fashion.
As is typical with the increasingly political FCC, reactions to the report’s findings split along party lines, with Commissioners Michael Copps and Mignon Clyburn — both strong supporters of stricter Internet regulations — siding with fellow Democrat Genachowski, while the Commission’s two Republican commissioners dissented. From Commissioner Robert McDowell’s statement:
Collecting granular data, including subscribership numbers, is important. But, subscribership data does not equate to the “availability” of broadband, which is what Congress requires the Commission to assess under Section 706. In many instances the Report confuses the facts by substituting the terms “deployment” and “subscribership” as if they were synonymous and interchangeable. They are not. “Deployment” and “subscribership” are two distinct concepts with different attributes and areas for improvement. Our task is to focus on Congress’ explicit directive to analyze deployment progress for purposes of the Section 706 Report. Today, however, the majority is sidelining the deployment figure of 95 percent in favor of a seemingly smaller subscribership number. It is only reasonable to question the rationale behind this confusing pivot.
From 2003 to 2009, under a consistent minimal regulatory framework, broadband providers have invested $27 billion annually in networks and infrastructure. Each year networks go further and faster. The National Broadband Plan found that 95 percent of the U.S. population has access to a 4 Mbps/1 Mbps terrestrial broadband service, and 80 percent have choice of broadband offerings. In every prior Section 706 Report, the Commission concluded that broadband deployment was timely and reasonable. In a striking departure from that decade of consistent Commission findings, the Commission has changed course by concluding that broadband deployment now is not reasonable and timely. I cannot support this decision. Broadband infrastructure deployment and investment are a remarkable and continuing success story, and I am troubled by giving such significant efforts a failing grade.”
In an effort to better understand broadband access in America, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration has asked the FCC for access to the “Form 477 database,” which was assembled from information offered high-speed Internet providers on broadband deployment.
The FCC has stated that barring any objections, it will comply with the request by December 7.
I have a serious problem with us accepting that half a year is the best we can possibly hope for. Why? Because I’m a Minnesotan by birth so I know that if money doesn’t get out until August or September that means very little broadband’s going to be deployed this year. Why? Because it gets very cold in Minnesota very early.
We need to recognize that for the northern third of the country you can’t lay a lot of broadband in the winter and it’s winter from at least October until April.
If we’re going to get any stimulus effect out of these dollars this year we need to find a way to make capital available right away so that shovel-ready projects can start deploying immediately.
One idea Daily has is a fast-track partial loan guarantee program, which could start deployment of broadband in April instead of August.
With President-elect Obama having made clear his intention to greatly expand broadband access in America, the cable companies and telecoms are pitching their hats into the ring. Enter Qwest Communications, which last Thursday fired off a letter to the Obama transition team with a proposal that…
... the government make an unspecified amount money available to states, which would request bids from companies proposing to achieve 95 percent statewide availability of broadband that’s 7-megabits-per-second or faster.
Just how much funding would be needed for such a plan is still unknown, but since Qwest reportedly spent $300 million last year just to improve its own broadband service, the final cost of bringing broadband to every corner of the country could be staggering.
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