The U.S. Broadband Internet Initiative involves more than we imagined

The U.S. is quickly falling behind other countries in internet technology. The scope of the current project may be to blame. Photo: ASA/Goddard Space Flight Center Scientific Visualization Studio

TEXAS, June 8th, 2012 — The Federal Communications Commission was given a mandate from Congress in 2009 to create a plan that would allow every American access to broadband Internet service.  The FCC’s task was to make sure that the new broadband initiative would also include plans to maximize education, private sector investment, consumer welfare, public safety, energy independence, employee training, job creation, and more through the use of broadband internet.  

So for anyone wondering why the U.S. broadband initiative is talking a little time you can see that this is more than speeding up downloads. 

Also remember that a broadband network with no one on it isn’t very efficient in the areas of consumer welfare or anything else for that matter.  This means that the plan must include a strategy to not only create viable networks that are accessible to every American, but make sure that all Americans have access to a device that can actually make use of the network.  This situation is getting tricky, and it gets worse. 

Broadband is the Railroad of the 21st Century 

In 1862 the Union Pacific Railroad and the Central Pacific Railroad were authorized by Congress to connect the two coasts of the United States.  This task was daunting to say the least, yet it seems almost simple by way of comparison when one looks at the many concerns and considerations wrapped up in the broadband initiative.  

It took over ten years to complete the first railroad project and that was a straightforward, albeit very strenuous endeavor.

The current advancements in American broadband infrastructure are financed and driven by the private sector almost exclusively.  As of 2012 over 200 million Americans have access to broadband service, most with multiple Internet providers to choose from.  This is up from 8 million in 2000 and includes traditional wired and coaxial networks as well as mobile.   

Despite this impressive progress America is no longer leading the Internet revolution.  Many advanced countries are quicker to adopt new technology and other governments around the world are supporting faster growth.  Over 100 million Americans do not have broadband at home.

So why should the U.S. Government get involved to a greater degree?  Congress claims more and better broadband service means we open the door for: 

- Improved health care while saving hundreds of billions of dollars
- Improved education reducing cost and learning time
- Increased energy independence via a broadband enabled Smart Grid
- Improved emergency response time via a nationwide public safety network

If the above claims are true the whole project takes on a much deeper meaning with not only money saving possibilities but also accelerated growth in some of the most important areas of our society. 

The government plans to get involved in the following areas:

- New Policies
- Asset Management
- Reform Laws and Standards
- New Policies

One major problem many consumers see in the broadband service area is an almost fundamental lack of competition.  While anti-trust laws may not be in violation, there are still very few service providers available in any given area.  If a user wants cable internet it is almost certain they will have only a single selection, and given that DSL technology is so far behind cable to call it competition is a big stretch.  

To give you an example in your neighborhood, visit Internet Providers and click on the “Internet Providers In My Area” button.  Fill out the form with your contact information and you will get a list of the broadband providers in your area.  It is almost certain there will be only one cable Internet provider, one or two satellite providers offering the same service at the same price, and a DSL offer from the local telephone company that is much slower than the other services.  

There is fiber optic Internet service of course but it is available to so few consumers it is not yet a real player.

The new FCC plan will include policies that encourage competition in network services, content, applications, devices, and more.  If this means multiple cable companies in a single neighborhood no one knows, but it is certain this would increase the level of service available while simultaneously dropping the price.  

The competition rules are being looked at for revision in both fixed and mobile networks.

The FCC is also developing a policy that will require broadband providers to disclose accurate performance expectation and pricing information.  The goal here is increased transparency across the entire market with the hopes of inciting internet providers to compete on actual performance. 

New policy changes also include:

- More allocated spectrum for unlicensed use
- Increased competitiveness in the set-top market
- Use public resources more effectively in local and state broadband provision
- Strengthen user privacy and protection requirements

Asset Management

The biggest concern in the area of asset management is spectrum.  The FCC currently has 50 megahertz available and this is nowhere near the amount necessary for the increased demand that will be created by a more healthy broadband market.  It is imperative that the FCC allocates and assigns bandwidth more efficiently.  This will drive investment capital; decrease deployment costs, lower prices for consumers and increase performance.  

The plan is too allocate a new 500 megahertz for broadband over the next ten years, and this process has already begun.

Along these lines existing spectrum is too be repurposed in a way that makes its usage more flexible.  This will, among other things, allow current spectrum license holders to auction and profit from the spectrum they are not currently using.  This along with more creative uses of unlicensed spectrum will increase efficiency. 

Reform Laws and Standards 

Government regulates the energy industry, manages public education, maintains homeland security, and is the single largest health care payor in the country.  This places the U.S. Government in a unique position to promote change in some of the areas of highest concern to our nation.  The current broadband initiative touches on many of these. 

Health care IT concerns are an area where costs can be cut without diminishing the care given.  

The FCC is focused on: 

- Data capture and use
- Ensuring health care providers have access to affordable broadband
- Creating incentives for adoption and reimbursement of e-care
- Increasing the use of e-care by improving regulations
- Giving patients more control over their health data

Modernizing e-learning in public education is another area the FCC can boost the expansion of broadband while at the same time improving an area of society that desperately needs an update. E-learning initiatives can provide personalized and improved learning opportunities for students and parents.  The increased use of broadband can also improve the flow of communication between families and teachers giving students a better chance to succeed.  The current plan includes:

- Improving connectivity in schools by upgrading the FCC’s E-Rate program
- Updating regulations that restrict online learning

Increase digital literacy and promote digital content 

It’s clear that this is much more in-depth than most American citizens think.  When Congress fist began discussing a new broadband strategy voters were under the impression that the government was going to run more cable or strengthen anti-trust laws in the communications industry.  This is clearly not the case and a job this big is going to take a long time to get under control.  The upside to an endeavor this enormous is if we can get just half of it done right it will be a big win.

For more information on the current broadband initiative you can visit http://www.broadband.gov/ 

Jon T. Norwood is a regular contributor at Web Exordium and can be reached via Twitter at @JonTNorwood


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Jon Norwood

Jon T. Norwood is a managing partner at Mobile Informers. Jon has over 15 years experience in the wireless communications field and is a frequent contributor at High Speed Internet Access Guide.

 

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