FCC Broadband Plan: A Round-Up

A round-up of editorials and analyses of the FCC broadband plan released Tuesday.

  • Dueling statistics. Households or people? Broadband or high-speed access? Is DSL broadband or isn’t it? Who’s on first?
    The San Francisco Chronicle lauds the plan, writing that “100 million American households don’t have high-speed access now.” (Without defining high speed.) The U.S. Census estimate for total number of U.S. households in 2009 was 113,567,967. So the Chronicle is saying that less than 15 percent of U.S. households have broadband, if the normal journalistic practice of high-speed as synonym for broadband holds true.
    The FCC, last month, asserted that 67 percent of U.S. households have someone who accesses broadband. The FCC report suggests that only 37 million American households don’t have broadband/high-speed access.
    Over at PC Magazine, Lance Ulanoff wrote that “100 million Americans … do not yet have broadband access and are still poking along on dial-up, DSL, or nothing at all.” Ulanoff doesn’t seem to realize that the FCC counts DSL as broadband; he thinks cable and fiber, I guess, as the only thing that is “broadband.” The Washington Post makes the same claim, that 100 million users aren’t getting broadband today.
  • But those other countries have it easy!
    Again at PC Magazine, Ulanoff types: “Obviously, in a place like South Korea, such infrastructure work [fiber and WiMax] is relatively easy.” Really? What’s obvious about it? The unstated assumption, I’m guessing, is that South Korea is far more urban than the U.S. But is it? According to the CIA factbook, 81% of the population of South Korea is urban. And the US? 82% urban.

    If the challenge of affordable broadband access were an urban v rural one, we’d be having a totally different conversation. But it’s not that simple. Urban America doesn’t match broadband access speeds of our economic competitors around the world.
  • What problem are we trying to solve?
    Rob Pegoraro at the Washington Post asks readers to register their biggest complaint about broadband. Right now, the winner is “not cheap enough” (41%). I’d argue that “not enough competition” (20%) is the answer to the pricing problem as well as the “not fast enough” (14%) problem. Not available near me (6%) is the sort of problem that government policy might be able to help with and is articulated as a problem in the FCC plan.

    To back me up, a different WaPost story says: “In New York, for example, where Verizon Communications, Cablevision and Time Warner Cable compete fiercely for customers, homes are offered some of the fastest broadband speeds in the nation.”
    And to back that up, last fall the FCC released a study that documented that open access policies “where undertaken with serious regulatory engagement, contributed to broadband penetration, capacity, and affordability in the first generation of broadband…. The lowest prices and highest speeds are almost always offered by firms in markets where, in addition to an incumbent telephone company and a cable company, there are also competitors who entered the market, and built their presence, through use of open access facilities.”
  • Regulation Is Bad?
    At The Christian Science Monitor, the editorial board warns that classifying broadband as “telecom service… would open it up to far more government regulation.”

    But it’s exactly that sort of “regulation” that led to competition for DSL providers. Without it, there would have been no Speakeasy.net being able to offer DSL on telecom copper. This would have affected me personally, as Speakeasy was able to provide me DSL when U.S. West said it could not.
    The Monitor closes with this factoid: “most of [the South Korean] population can receive data at speeds more than 25 times faster than in the US.” And how, exactly, did South Korea do this? Did they wait for a regulated industry (telephony or cable) to step up to the plate or did they put government resources and muscle (aka “regulation”) into action?
  • Hold Your Nose And Say Yes
    At PC World, David Coursey explains that for the plan to get Congressional sign-off, “tech-savvy” citizens are going to have to step up and lobby. He’s right. And as flawed as this plan appears to me on the surface, it is better than having no plan at all. The country is suffering from eight years of no public agency leadership (markets rule, baby!); we can’t afford even two more years of laggardness.

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