Tuesday, February 23, 2010

US broadband policy developments


Some interesting developments in the USA in the run-up to the presentation of the National Broadband Plan to Congress on 17 March. In a speech to the NARUC Conference in Washington on 16 February, FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski set a goal that by 2020 the minumum broadband access speed should be 100Mbps:
"Our plan will set goals for the U.S. to have the world’s largest market of very high-speed broadband users. A “100 Squared” initiative - 100 million households at 100 megabits per second - to unleash American ingenuity and ensure that businesses, large and small, are created here, move here, and stay here. And we should stretch beyond 100 megabits. The U.S. should lead the world in ultra-high-speed broadband testbeds as fast, or faster, than anywhere in the world. In the global race to the top, this will help ensure that America has the infrastructure to host the boldest innovations that can be imagined."
A couple of days later the FCC unveiled the Broadband Plan's working recommendations for key national priorities. These are categorised into six themes:
  • Providing jobs and creating economic opportunity
  • Improving healthcare and controlling costs
  • Providing more educational opportunities and improving outcomes
  • Promoting energy independence and efficiency
  • Enhancing government performance and increasing civic engagement
  • Increasing public safety and homekand security
In marked contrast to the picture painted by the Caio review and Digital Britain reports, the FCC directly acknowledges the need to address school connectivity and promote digital inclusion as matters of urgency:
  • Challenge: While 97% percent of public elementary and secondary schools have Internet access, speeds are insufficient. 
  • Solution: Upgrade E-rate program to provide additional connectivity, flexibility and efficiency. 
  • Challenge: Online learning can reduce time required to learn by half and increase course completion rates, but there are barriers to wider adoption. 
  • Solutions: Remove regulatory barriers to online learning; increase supply of digital content and online learning systems; promote digital literacy for students and teachers.
While commentary in the Wall Street Journal suggests there is still more to do:
“…few details have been released on the most anticipated issues in the plan. It still isn't known what the agency will propose to increase competition among Internet providers or how it will overhaul an $8 billion-a-year federal phone-subsidy program.”
...and CircleID report that there are continuing issues with making stimulus bill funding for broadband projects available:
"The Rural Utility Service (part of the US Agriculture Department) and NTIA (part of the US Commerce Department) have awarded only 15% of the first round money they promised to make available. To be blunt, they failed in their mission. They are now poised to compound that failure with an absurd deadline of March 15 for second round applications prior to availability of first round results."
...this all still seems streets ahead of where we're at in the UK to me. The FCC has also  revised the E-Rate progamme to allow members of the general public to use schools’ Internet access during non-operating hours, something we've taken for granted in the UK. Internet2 has welcomed the FCC's announcement. All evidence of a new sense of broadband ambition in the US?

Finally, it's interesting that the Utah Telecommunication Open Infrastructure Agency, more commonly known as UTOPIA, a group of 16 Utah cities joined together to form a state-of-the-art fibre-optic network, has formerly announed its intention to bid in Google's Fibre Communities Programme - but surely it would be better to annouce you've been successful, rather just that you've applied...pride comes before a fall and all that?

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