Recently, the Federal Communications Commission unveiled its National Broadband Plan, a road map to the future of broadband Internet service in the United States.
A main goal of the plan is to give U.S. consumers faster, cheaper Internet service everywhere in the country on many devices.
In preparing its plan, the FCC commissioned a wide-ranging study by the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University. The study examined how nations that had faster, cheaper Internet service than the United States does accomplished that.
But nowhere does the study's main recommendation appear in the National Broadband Plan. Why?
First, why is faster, cheaper, ubiquitous Internet important? The Berkman study: "High capacity networks are seen as strategic infrastructure, intended to contribute to high and sustainable economic growth and to core aspects of human development." Economic growth? Human development? Seem like pretty good things to encourage.
The study looked at the 30 members of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, the modernized, industrialized democracies. Not only does the United States fall in the middle rank among those nations in broadband price and speed, but its rank also has declined during the 2000s as other countries have overtaken us.
Specifically, the United States ranks 15th of 30 in broadband penetration, 19th in 3G penetration, ninth in WiFi hot spots per thousand citizens, 19th in average advertised speed, 12th in price for low speed (where a lower rank is cheaper service), 17th in price for midspeed, 19th in price for high speed and 11th in price for very high speed. So compared with many nations in the rest of the world, our Internet service is slow and expensive.
No U.S. city was in the top 20 cities in download speed and only one U.S. city, New York City, was in the top 20 in upload speed at No. 13. No. 1 and 2 in download speed were Busan and Seoul in South Korea, and No. 1 and 2 in upload speed were Yokohama, Japan, and Stockholm, Sweden.
What is the secret of the countries that are so far ahead of us in high-speed, low-price Internet ?
Good old American competition.
In telecommunications it is called open access, and it means that the government requires Internet providers to lease their lines to companies that wish to enter the market and compete with them. If company A wishes to become an Internet provider, it could lease use of Verizon's or Comcast's wires.
Currently almost no new company could afford the megabillions it would cost to string its own lines to every customer's house.
So if open access is the key in so many nations, why is it not in the FCC National Broadband Policy?
Basically because the big telecom companies hate the idea and have been successful in blocking it.
Open access, sometimes called forced access, was made law for telephone companies in the 1966 Telecommunications Act. You can see the result in the number of small companies selling long-distance service at low costs. But the FCC decided to abandon open access for broadband Internet in a series of decisions in 2001 and 2002.
Cable companies were never required to offer open access.
But in a world that is rapidly becoming wireless, why worry about who owns the wires? Because wireless Internet requires heavy investment in infrastructure as well -- cell towers, WiMax towers, buying spectrum from the government. And wireless networks and spectrum are owned by many of the same giant telecoms who own the wires. And they're not fond of open access.
There was one recent stab at opening up the airwaves. When the FCC auctioned off swaths of wireless spectrum freed up by the switch to digital TV, Google said it would bid if the FCC would require that the successful bidder be required to allow access to the spectrum by competitors. When the FCC issued the rules for the auction, such access was not included.
So why would the FCC commission the Berkman study and then ignore it in its Internet policy proposal?
Probably because many parts of the policy require congressional action, and the FCC didn't want to go up against the formidable resources and lobbying power of the telecom giants who would oppose competition.
But if open access is the key to how so many countries solve the problem of Internet price and speed, it makes no sense to ignore it.
(Both the Berkman report and the FCC Internet plan are available at fcc.gov.)
Read more: http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/10080/1044248-96.stm#ixzz0jUKp0i8c