Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Boring into Broadband Penetration Statistics

In preparation for a conference on network neutrality, I am taking a closer look at broadband penetration statistics in the U.S. and in other countries. I conclude that broadband policy should address both accessibility and affordability.

The U.S. has achieved a mixed record in broadband penetration not accessibility. In other words while some potential subscribers can access broadband at "best practices" rates, others have quite high charges to consider. Normalizing rates on a per 100 kilobit rate provides a good measure of affordability.

Promoting broadband in the U.S. going forward will have less to do with achieving geographic penetration and more with promoting lower rates. Devising a workable plan for subsidizing access is a daunting task. U.S. long distance telephone service callers contributed over $7 billion for promoting mostly narrowband, basic voice service affordability last year. The current universal service funding mechanism is expensive, flawed, prone to abuse and lacking a broadband component outside schools, libraries, and medical facilities.

Here's a link to my presentation entitled " Internet Access as Essential Infrastructure: Public Utility, Private Utility or Neither?":

Recent Presentation and Paper on Wireless Carterfone

Belatedly the network neutrality debate has begun to address the extent to which wireless subscribers can use their handsets to access any content, including software. In 1968 the Federal Communications Commission's Carterfone policy required wireline telephone companies to decouple telecommunications service from the installation and maintenance of inside wiring and the lease or sale of telephones.

Decades later the FCC may consider what rights wireless subscribers have to attach devices and access content of their choosing. I have written a paper supporting wireless Carterfone for the New America Foundation; see

Some slides outlining the paper are available at:

Anyone interested in a longer, heavily footnoted piece can access it at:

Despite promising words from Verizon and other wireless carriers, wireless Carterfone policy does not currently exist. The fact that a significant percentage of Apple iPhone owners would risk "bricking" their phone (rendering the device inoperable) attests to the growing desire to be free of handset restrictions.

At a Congressional briefing hosted by the New America foundation Wall Street Journal opinion columnist Walt Mossberg reiterated his view that wireless carriers operate as "Soviet Ministries." Whether these carriers embrace wireless Carterfone will depend on future initiatives that offer discounts for service to subscribers with unsubsidized handsets, speedy access to subscribers by third party (unaffiliated) software, applications and content providers and a whether a level competitive playing field exists between carrier affiliated handset and content providers and unaffiliated ventures.