Wednesday, June 3, 2009

FCC National Broadband Plan: Defining Access

It's a busy time of year with my daughter graduating from high school, the end of the semester, etc, etc, etc. Things are settling down now and I wanted to get back to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Notice of Inquiry (NOI) to develop a modern national broadband plan that will seek to ensure that every American has access to broadband capability.

As I've written in the past, the NOI is currently open for comment until June 8 with FCC reply to comments on July 7. In my last post I took a look at Defining Broadband Capability. Today let's look at Defining Access to Broadband as described in the 59 page report. I've listed selected items the FCC is seeking comment on, followed by my comments.

The FCC seeks comment on what it means to have access to broadband capability. For instance, the FCC seeks comment on whether the determination of availability should take into consideration the provision of broadband at locations, such as at home, at work, in schools, in transit, in libraries and other similar community centers, and at public Wi-Fi hotspots.

Broadband capability needs to be everywhere. Prioritizing (for example, saying a library requires more bandwidth per user than a home) makes little sense. We need to make broadband available to everyone.

The FCC seeks comment on whether to interpret the capability term differently
depending on the technology used or whether it is used in a fixed, nomadic, or mobile context.

A minimum definition should be set that all technologies should meet and then categories should be broken out. For example, a fiber to the home (FTTH) fixed technology connection is going to have considerably more capability than a mobile wireless connection.

The FCC seeks comment on whether (and if so, how) the Commission should evaluate the term “access”
with certain basic consumer expectations in mind.

In 2005 the Commission adopted an Internet Policy Statement in which it committed “to preserve and promote the vibrant and open character of the Internet as the telecommunications marketplace enters the broadband age” by incorporating four consumer-based principles into its ongoing policy making activities. (1) “consumers are entitled to access the lawful Internet content of their choice”; (2) “consumers are entitled to run applications and use services of their choice, subject to the needs of law enforcement”; (3) “consumers are entitled to connect their choice of legal devices that do not harm the network”; and (4) “consumers are entitled to competition among network providers, application and service providers, and content providers.”

I believe these 4 principles are critical as we move forward and these principles should be turned into rules (through a rulemaking).

To what extent should the Commission consider price or marketplace competition for broadband as it considers whether people have access to broadband capability?

Competition is key if we want bandwidths from different providers to leapfrog and prices to drop. In Massachusetts we've seen fierce competition in the eastern part of the state as Verizon (FiOS) and the cable companies go back and forth with each other. In Western Massachusetts (where I live) FiOS is not available and we are seeing little competition when compared.

Areas where there is only a single provider typically have to wait for long periods of time to see new broadband delivery technologies. More competition in under-served areas is critical areas or these areas will continue to fall further behind. I'd like to see the national broadband plan focus stimulus money on these areas with limited competition and capability.

What benefits to consumers are unique to differentbroadband technologies? How should the Commission consider the different qualitative features discussed in the definition of broadband, such as latency, peak download speed, and mobility?

We must set these features aggressively and at a level that does not just compete but leads the rest of the world - this must be our goal. The OECD maintains a portal that provides access to a range of broadband-related statistics gathered by the OECD. The OECD has indentified five main categories which are important for assessing broadband markets - Penetration, Usage, Coverage, Prices, and Service & Speeds. For example, fiber is the dominant connection technology in Korea and Japan and now accounts for 48% of all Japanese broadband subscriptions and 43% in Korea. With fiber comes lower latency, higher peak download speeds and (yes) even more mobility.

The FCC also seeks comment on the extent to which access hinges on affordability.

Simply put, it needs to be fast and it needs to be cheap. Referring to the OECD portal again and as an example, on average, subscribers in OECD countries pay 15 times more per advertised megabit of connectivity than Koreans. We must be faster and cheaper than Korea if we want to compete with the rest of the world.

The FCC seeks comment on what it means for a person with disabilities to "have access" to broadband capabilities.

The report references the Assistive Technologies Act of 2004, supporting state efforts to improve provision of assistive technology to individuals with disabilities; the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990,requiring common carriers to provide telecommunications relay services for deaf and speech-impaired individuals; and the Amendment of the Commission’s Rules Governing Hearing Aid-Compatible Mobile Handsets; Petition of American National Standards Institute Accredited Standards Committee C63, that focuses on adopting hearing aid compatibility requirements for mobile wireless devices.

Higher bandwidths and lower costs per megabit will drive innovation and applications that help and support people with disabilities. That said, assistive technologies must continue to be regulated and ratcheted up as bandwidth and access continues to improve.

I believe residential broadband (to the home) is key in our country. Homes in our broadband equation are the lowest common denominator. Lots of inexpensive and reliable bandwidth to everyone's home will drive bandwidth up and costdown at work, libraries, public Wi-Fi hotspots, etc. We must set our residential broadband bar higher than the rest of the world in each of the five OECD portal categories.

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