Wednesday, March 31, 2010

US policy developments update


Lots happening in the US, in the wake of the publication of the National Broadband Plan a fortnight ago. As to be expected, some criticisms, but praise too. The New America Foundation have published their assessment (also available here) of the plan, which, while recognising that the plan "represents vision and an important policy shift for the Federal Communications Commission (FCC)", also suggests that "the plan's goals and policies must be bolder if the U.S. is to close digital divides in rural and urban areas, and allow the U.S. to improve its international broadband ranking." The San Francisco Chronicle offers a useful overview of this and other concerns.

More specifically, the report suggests that the FCC should:
"reconsider the conclusions contained in a recent report it commissioned from the Berkman Center for Internet and Society, which summarized the successful strategies of other leading nations.12 If the Commission is committed to facilitating competition and driving down prices, it must at least consider the narrowly and geographically targeted application of unbundling and open access policies. As the Berkman Center study demonstrates, these policies have proven successful in other countries and markets. They cannot be taken off the table simply because of political opposition from incumbent carriers; rather, a commitment to transparency and data-driven policymaking requires a full evaluation of all potential options."
Which is very interesting, especially as the Berkman Centre report (available here) was commissioned by...the FCC. See this previous post for more on this. The New America Foundation assessment also includes a very useful summary of the FCC's Title I/Title II (in relation to the Communications Act) broadband reclassification options on pages 14-15, suggesting that the Commission should:
"promptly issue a Notice of Inquiry considering only the issue of whether to classify the transmission component of broadband Internet access as a telecommunications service. This necessary next step will commence the process of fully airing and resolving questions related to the Commission’s authority to implement the plan and will allow the FCC to deal with jurisdictional questions holistically, rather than tackling the question repeatedly as it seeks to implement each of its policy proposals."
Lots of other useful material on the New America Foundation site, including this presentation of the findings from a report on the role broadband plays in boosting local economic development, and an analysis, entitled Homes with Tails, of the potential for consumers to purchase and own fibre connections running from their homes. Returning to the National Broadband Plan, Network World report that several elements have met with Republican opposition, particularly in relation to the issue of broadband reclassification, and its likely impact on broadband providers:
"While Chapter 4 of the broadband plan doesn't talk specifically about reclassifying broadband as a common-carrier service, committee Republicans said the chapter addressing broadband competition policy recommends a number of new rules that could potentially create new regulations for broadband providers...Representative Mike Rogers, a Michigan Republican, questioned how (FCC Chairman) Genachowski could talk about encouraging private investment in broadband and also propose new net neutrality rules that would prohibit broadband providers from selectively blocking or slowing Internet content. The broadband plan has sent a "shiver of cold" across the investment community, he said."
But on a more positive note, EDUCAUSE have welcomed the plan's endorsement of their Unified Community Anchor Network (UCAN) concept. From their press release:
"We underscore the goal of 1 gigabit-per-second connectivity to all anchor institutions. The report endorses the Unified Community Anchor Network (UCAN) that EDUCAUSE, along with the Schools, Health and Libraries Broadband (SHLB) Coalition and several others, proposed in comments to the FCC in January. Internet2, NLR, ACUTA, and many other peer organizations also strongly support this creative and economically sound plan to extend high-speed broadband into the hearts of our communities."
Also on a positive note, Google report an excellent response to their request for information in relation to their plans to build an experimental fibre network on their official blog:
"Over the coming months, we'll be reviewing the responses to determine where to build. As we narrow down our choices, we'll be conducting site visits, meeting with local officials and consulting with third-party organizations. Based on a rigorous review of the data, we will announce our target community or communities by the end of the year. Of course, we're not going to be able to build in every interested community - our plan is to reach a total of at least 50,000 and potentially up to 500,000 people with this experiment. Wherever we decide to build, we hope to learn lessons that will help improve Internet access everywhere...We've received more than 1,100 community responses and more than 194,000 responses from individuals."
Network World report that some communities went to rather extreme measures in attempting to secure Google's interest...including jumping into icy lakes, swimming with sharks and re-naming towns (Topeka, Kansas became Google, Kansas for the duration of March 2010)...we shall have to wait and see if any of these antics helped their respective causes!

Finally for this update, it seems that changes to the rules governing how the Rural Utilities Service (RUS) and National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) will dole out the second round of broadband stimulus funding are encouraging interest from companies previously reluctant to apply. Fierce Telecom report that Qwest has applied for "a $350 million broadband stimulus funding grant to extend broadband services to rural communities in its 14-state ILEC region", where ILEC = incumbent local exchange carrier. A useful assessment of the rule changes is available here.

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