Without Open Access, the FCC’s Broadband Plan Is a Joke


fcc_small.jpgADOTAS – A favorite writer of mine once commented that the worst part of traveling via airlines is being exposed to cable news blaring in every airport. Considering that my plane from Austin got canceled because of a freak snow storm in Dallas and I’m stuck in an airport hotel until tomorrow because — thanks to the South by Southwest festival, everything is booked solid — I’ll disagree.

But I did get an eyeful and an earful of cable news this weekend, which was particularly depressing considering all the protesting in Washington due to the health care reform vote. I gaped at screen after screen displaying protesters outside the capital screaming about socialism, pointing their fingers in the air and screaming, “We’re no. 1!”

Only the U.S. is not no. 1 and it is fast falling behind other nations in terms of public education and, yes, health care. But perhaps most pathetic, we seem to trailing ever further in terms of high-speed Internet access.

While the FCC’s National Broadband Plan takes steps in the right direction, an article yesterday in The New York Times by Yochai Benkler, a professor and the codirector of the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard Law School, points out that it’s not enough for the U.S. to keep up with the access levels of Japan and several European nations.

Oh, the tech will be there — it just won’t be affordable. Benkler notes that the U.S. already boast the highest prices for high-speed broadband, some three to five times higher than other nations, while providers like Comcast and Time Warner plan to keep jacking up prices.

What’s the real hold up? FCC staff have grudgingly admitted that the lobbying powers of provider monopolies have strangled the potential for open access policies, in which companies that build networks must sell access to rivals that not only compete on but also invest in the network. Many countries have employed such policies, encouraging collaboration and even seducing with public investment, to much success.

Benkler argues that without such a policy shift that would increase competition, broadband service in this country will keep stagnating in comparison to the rest of the hi-tech world. But as long as providers keep greasing the wheels of policy with lobbying money, fat chance.

Anyway, the government forcing companies to compete? Sounds like socialism! Good luck seeing that kind of initiative pass in the current political environment (which reeks of poor education — see how this all ties together?).

However, TechCrunch has another hope: Google, which is planning to deploy an experimental 1 Gb per second network to anywhere from 50,000 to 500,000 households. Several smaller U.S. cities want to be the guinea pig, with Topeka, Kan., unofficially changing its name to Google for the month of March. The gimmicks go on and on as other municipalities try to garner big G’s interest.

There’s something else here worth admiring — the local governments are stepping up and trying to make life better for their citizenry, which is smart on quite a lot of levels. For one, it will attract hi-tech companies and smarter, more affluent types to the regions — for example, look what North Carolina’s research triangle has done for that state.

If the federal government is hobbled by the corporate interests, perhaps its up to the smaller governments to make broadband access happen. It’s just a shame that so many local and state governments are having their budgets squeezed, but this is an investment in the future — and the U.S. returning to the no. 1 slot, neighborhood by neighborhood, town by town.


  1. What’s in it for Google? I am a cynic when it comes to a company providing free services. Can Google set up 1 GB/sec access for anyone? At less cost than Comcast? Where do I sign?


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