The Federal Communications Commission today heard about the types of policies that need to be implemented in order to make nationwide broadband a reality as part of an update to the National Broadband Plan that’s due Feb. 17. Amid rather esoteric policies regarding pole placement and installing broadband with road construction, there were a few controversial proposals, but little dealing with the overall lack of competition in the U.S.
The cable industry and its grip on the set-top box market came under attack as a hindrance to innovation as the television and the web converge, with the regulators suggesting that instead of a set-top box in the home, a residential gateway that contains encoders, decoders, conditional access controls and tuners be implemented instead. Then consumers could use whatever network-enabled device they want to get access to the cable content. This could be especially handy in homes without computers.
Another controversial item involves Universal Service Fund reform, which may soon be better known as the $7-billion-Annual-Fund-to-Expand-Broadband but neglected to go into deep details. However, sources in the FCC tell me that some of the key proposals the FCC is weighing on USF reform involve:
- limiting the guaranteed return on investment by rural providers, which currently sits at 11.25 percent;
- counting cable voice services as a viable alternative to copper-based voice lines when look at whether an area is served;
- reducing the subsidies per line in areas where service providers are getting incredibly high reimbursements per line;
- and allowing only one wireless provider to get reimbursed as a competitive option for voice in rural areas.
The update also glossed over what is a key issue in the plan, namely that service providers in U.S. spend roughly $50 billion a year in capital investment to bring broadband services to their customers, but that investment doesn’t get spent evenly across the population. Plus, despite that investment, most Americans don’t have a lot of choice about their broadband provider.
The regulators formulating the plan have to keep that investment flowing while also figuring out how to deliver broadband in places where the private companies have no wish to go, as well as push providers to behave competitively and transparently. That will require not just an initial investment, but money to maintain that infrastructure and attempt to measure the value it brings back to the taxpayers and consumers paying into USF, which will likely underwrite some of this.
The presentation offered to the FCC is embedded below. As a counterpoint to the plan presented to the FCC, the Free Press and non-profit concerned with web access, also presented its take on the policy issues the National Broadband Plan must address.