I read the FCC report on a Rural Broadband Strategy. It’s long. Not a lot of it is new. A lot of the juicy bits have been postponed deferring to the National Broadband Policy (due Feb 2010) and the prospect of the future FCC definitions for unserved and underserved. Speeds weren’t discussed much at all.
To me, the report starts to get interesting round about page 50 when they discuss addressing network costs and page 54 when they address overcoming challenges to rural deployment.
Addressing network costs gets into the role of government. In this section (for the first time in the report I think) they reference success efforts in other countries. The report is careful to note the pros (serving areas that are not economically viable) and the cons (potential for market distortion) of government involvement. I can’t say there is a definitive plug for municipal networks but the report does say, “A complementary government role in broadband deployment can yield advantages that a free market solution cannot achieve alone.”
Overcoming challenges. That section pulls out specific policies and technology approaches, such as the Universal Service Fund. They outline the successes of the USF, modifications to the original plans and a need to continue to support and modify USF programs.
They promote network openness; “The value of open networks is not a novel concept, but the Commission must act to ensure that the genius of the open Internet is not lost. Over the course of the Commission’s history, powerful network operators have argued that harm will result from any reduction in their absolute control over the network.”
They also look at spectrum, middle mile access, right of way, tower access and more. Many of these topics are being decided in upcoming proceedings. So again a real statement has been deferred – but dates and times of planned meetings are included. But at least I feel like these were meaty topics where the government plays a role and needs to be smarter about how short sighted decisions affect long term goals.
There’s a historical piece on how America has overcome past infrastructure challenges (starts on page 15). That part is valuable too. It outlines the postal system, railroad, rural electrification and highway system. Again that’s not so new – but I think it indicates a recognition that the government needs to step in to drive rural broadband access and each example offers a slightly different approach made in a different time in history. I hope it will help us recognize that anytime can be the right time to invest in our future.
Another concept I liked from the report was the notion that the federal government had to start thinking of broadband as a big goal. (To that end, I also liked the appendix that lists federal programs that might touch upon broadband.) So all agencies have to consider how their rules and funding will impact rural broadband. It made me think of folks who have been frustrated with federal funding that seems to shut doors to ubiquitous broadband access. For example the eRate funds that were great for building a learning network in Minnesota but left some communities with a wired school but no access for local businesses or residents because rules mandated that the network be used only for one purpose. That’s just one example; there are other ways where with a concerted effort the government could be more mindful of ensuring broader access to broadband.
The first 50 pages didn’t seem so new to me. There’s a push towards assessing current broadband status, mapping and broadband adoption programs. It sounds a lot like the Connected Nation plan; it also sounds like the broadband stimulus plan. It had some nice stories of successful broadband deployment in different areas; it recognized specific needs of rural communities.
I’m not saying I agree or disagree with it – it’s just not so new and not really detailed enough to be meaningful. And until you define broadband, unserved or underserved or until you set a budget – I think it’s a plan that’s too broad to be very helpful.
I think a lot will be said about Connected Nation’s role in this report. Clearly their comments and reports have been incorporated. I’ve said it before the thing that CN does better than anyone is they make it easy for the policymakers. They offer a solution. Is it the right solution? If it’s the only solution the policymakers know and understand, it’s the one that going to fly. To compete or complement the CN solution, I’d start by replicating what they do well – make it easy for the policymakers.