Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Will U.S. Continue Broadband Slide Under Obama?

Since 2001, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the United States has moved from fourth in the world to fifteenth in broadband penetration. Not exactly bragging rights. Lot's of us have been out advocating for broadband reform and a new definition of broadband. Congress is working to determine what speed broadband should be defined as, whether taxpayer money should be invested in areas that do not have broadband access and whether existing slower networks should be subsidized for upgrades.Here's a summary from an article in today's Wall Street Journal:

Large cable operators are seeking to increase the FCC's definition of broadband download speed to about five megabits per second, about 6½ times as fast as the current definition, according to people familiar with the situation. Internet-service providers building out "unserved" regions, where service of that speed isn't available, would be given the full benefit of tax incentives or grants.

The big cable providers also want to target "underserved" areas, where there is only one broadband provider or the service isn't widely available. In those markets, companies would get incentives to build out next-generation services. The download speed that would qualify as next-generation would likely be in the range of 40 to 50 megabits per second, people involved in the discussions say.

I'm loving this right now but.... the smaller telcos don't like it - how come? Here's more from the Journal:

The cable plan would disadvantage phone companies, especially smaller ones whose digital-subscriber-line services are slower than cable modems. The Independent Telephone and Telecommunications Alliance, which represents midsize phone companies, is pushing for a slower broadband standard, in the range of 1.5 to three megabits per second. Curt Stamp, the group's president, says the federal largesse should be used to subsidize carrier investments in rural areas rather than to finance upgrades to their existing networks.

I've written in the past here frequently about our lack of a competitive broadband policy in this country. So..... cable companies pushing for higher speed broadband definitions and wanting to target "underserved" areas at speeds up to 50 megabits per second. Smaller telecos pushing for a new broadband definition that is about half of what the cable companies want. Here's a little more from the Wall Street Journal:

The Telecommunications Industry Association, which represents equipment makers, is pushing for a $25 billion grant program for Internet service providers. Under another proposal that is being discussed, grants could go to state and municipal authorities, which would build high-speed networks and then open them up to competing service providers. That would likely meet with considerable resistance from large carriers like Verizon Communications Inc., which have challenged attempts by local governments to build and operate their own wireless or high-speed fiber networks.

Cable companies, smaller telcos, big telcos and equipment manufacturers all lobbying and every day we continue to fall further behind the rest of the world. Obama will have his hands full trying to turn this one around - his transition team declined comment to the Journal.

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