NY Times: Congress Should Make Broadband Technology Nation’s Primary Means of Communication


world-wide-webThe following editorial appears in today’s New York Times: The Federal Communications Commission’s broadband strategy comes not a moment too soon. High-speed Internet is on its way to replacing ttelephone as the nation’s primary means of communication.But the United States is woefully behind in building the physical systems to support this transformation. That will require federal money, incentives to private businesses, and updates in the regulatory system.

Fewer than 27 out of every 100 Americans have broadband service, compared with 33 in South Korea and 38 in the Netherlands. The average advertised download speed is 8 megabits per second; in France, it is 51. And according to a study by the F.C.C., the average download in the United States occurs at about half the advertised speed. Meanwhile, the poor, the elderly and other vulnerable groups remain cut off from broadband technology, and therefore from such things as online government services, medical advice and jobs.

The F.C.C.’s blueprint offers a feasible path to address these lacunae, unleash investment in the broadband network and foster competition among service providers. The core goal is to bring broadband to 100 million homes at download speeds of at least 100 megabits per second by 2020, and to vastly expand broadband over the airwaves.

The ambitious plan is likely to attract hostility from corporations – like TV broadcasters and telecommunications companies. They have legitimate concerns, but, in general, Congress should provide all the assistance the F.C.C. needs to achieve its goals.

A likely flashpoint is the F.C.C.’s determination to foster competition. Lack of competition is perhaps the main reason broadband prices remain so high and speeds so low, especially compared with other countries.

Lack of competition allows big wire-line telecom companies to charge big fees to carry the signals of mobile providers over their wires. Telecom companies argue, with reason, that competition goes beyond wires – that many other companies that are unregulated also are intrinsic to the development of broadband access.

Congress has to sort this out. The F.C.C.’s authority to police broadband is already limited and is being challenged in court. Congress may need to clarify the F.C.C.’s authority. Other parts of the commission’s plan will also require specific legislation.

For instance, the F.C.C. needs Congress to approve a plan to repurpose 120 megahertz of surplus TV spectrum for mobile broadband, to meet the mushrooming demand from powerful new wireless devices like iPhone or Google’s Droid. Congress must give the go-ahead so the commission can entice broadcasters to relinquish spectrum by offering them a slice of the revenue of the auction of airwaves to broadband providers.

The F.C.C. also needs Congress’s approval to spend money on a new wireless broadband network for use by emergency services, and to repurpose about $8 billion a year from the Universal Service Fund, established decades ago to ensure phones got to hard-to-reach places, to do that with broadband Internet access.

These goals are long overdue, but that makes them no less essential to taking full advantage of the Internet’s promise to improve American competitiveness.

{NY Times/Noam Amdurski-Matzav.com Newscenter}