The Federal Communications Commission today released its Sixth Broadband Deployment Report (PDF) to help determine if broadband is being deployed to all U.S. consumers in a timely fashion. The answer is a resounding “no!” FCC research indicates that 14 to 24 million Americans have no broadband access, mainly because they live in low-population areas where infrastructure is expensive. I read that as: areas where it wouldn’t be profitable for a broadband provider.
As a result of its findings, the FCC says the goal of broadband deployment to all Americans is currently unmet — a situation unlikely to change without implementing aspects of the FCC’s own National Broadband Plan. Such initiatives include supporting public-private broadband partnerships, making new spectrum available for mobile broadband, which could offset the lack of wired connectivity, and reforming the Universal Service Fund to pay for broadband. And if that’s not enough, Om and Stacey have a solid laundry list for FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski; my fave is the call for “a relentless obsession that helps the U.S. return to the global forefront of Internet and mobile technology.” That’s a rather timely suggestion, given that Sweden overtook the U.S. just yesterday in a broadband ranking survey.
It hasn’t taken long for U.S. broadband providers to respond to the FCC’s findings, and to warn the agency from using the findings to justify its attempts to reclassify broadband. Verizon issued a statement from Kathleen Grillo, senior vice president for federal regulatory affairs, suggesting that the FCC is refuting its own original findings.
It makes no sense that, after the National Broadband Plan concluded that 95 percent of Americans have access to wireline broadband, the FCC majority now suggests broadband deployment is not reasonable and timely. The report’s conclusion is hard to understand, given America’s extraordinary progress in deploying broadband, fueled by hundreds of billions of dollars in private investment. Of course, we still have work to do to ensure that broadband reaches the remaining 5 percent of American households. Verizon has and will continue to support comprehensive reform of the universal service program and other policies to help achieve that important goal. But we hope that the FCC’s finding is not used as a justification to roll back the bipartisan, pro-investment policies that have brought broadband to 290 million Americans.
Regardless of what statements and actions come from the latest FCC broadband report, there’s at least one sign of a step forward in the actual definition of “broadband,” which as recently as 2008 was considered by the FCC to be 200 kbps down. The new standards, which were initially suggested in the National Broadband Plan, are four Mbps down and one Mbps up, as defined in today’s FCC report:
The report also takes the long-overdue step of updating a key standard — speed — used to determine whether households are served by broadband. It upgrades the standard from 200 kilobits per second downstream, a standard set over a decade ago when web pages were largely text-based, to four megabits per second (Mbps) downstream and one Mbps upstream. This is a minimum speed generally required for using today’s video-rich broadband applications and services, while retaining sufficient capacity for basic web browsing and e-mail.
Fiber technologies already trump this minimum definition, but fiber-to-the-home is expensive — even in non-rural areas. The FCC’s newest findings, then, could give additional life to DSL, which although prominent, is seen as a slower pipe with its use of copper for the last mile instead of fiber optics. A more likely solution for covering the broadband “black hole” that tens of millions now face is wireless as the last mile — carriers wouldn’t have to wire each individual home in rural areas. Instead, their wire investment would be limited to single lines of backhaul to towers among the fields and forests.
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