Friday, March 26, 2010

The National Broadband Plan--A Work in Progress

The National Broadband Plan represents a thoughtful, albeit belated, recognition that the U.S. federal government can stimulate both the broadband supply and demand through stewardship and vision. However, the Plan does not signal a major shift in strategy, the infusion of billions more in subsidies, or a departure from reliance on marketplace forces to allocate most resources to broadband development. The Plan does make the case for many short and long term adjustments in policies, many of which the FCC cannot effectuate unilaterally in light of the need for a legislative mandate, or cooperation with other government agencies and stakeholders. The Plan offers hope that some leaders in the U.S. government now recognize the need to adopt global best practices, many of which require the national government to engage in sophisticated analysis of when to become more involved in broadband development, but also when to remove regulatory underbrush that retards timely and flexible adjustments to the mix of radio spectrum available.

The FCC officially recognizes that broadband means something much faster than 200 kbps. The Plan proposes an ambitious “100 squared” goal of having 100 million households with access to 100 Mbps download service by 2020 with a far less ambitious 4 mbps service of actual download speed available to nearly all residents as soon as possible.

The National Broadband Plan offers scores of thoughtful and probably positive policy changes, but many of them require coordination among federal agencies, newfound zeal in finding ways to use spectrum with greater efficiency, and the need to make changes quickly. Dislodging the status quo will prove daunting, because the Plan offers little new inducements for government agencies to refrain from inefficient spectrum use bordering on hoarding and for incumbent wireline carriers to welcome a shift in universal service funding from narrowband telephone service to broadband.

The Plan operates under the flawed presumption that broadband competition exists, or soon will flourish, with particular emphasis on wireless broadband options that currently have failed to match the bitrate deliver speeds of wireline options. Additionally, the Commission appears content with finding new wireless broadband spectrum for incumbent carriers, without considering whether the scope of competition, as well as broadband access and affordability might be enhanced by reserving some newly available spectrum for market entrants. The Plan avoids addressing network interconnection, neutrality and sharing requirements that other nations have adopted with measureable success.

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