Broadband for AllSunday, January 04, 2009
For the past few months as the FCC has failed to entice a commercial network operator to bid on the 700 MHz D Bloc Spectrum for a shared commercial/first responder broadband network, passed new rules (Unlicensed Access to TV White Space), and has been on the verge of approving the use of the AWS-3 spectrum for a new nationwide broadband system which would require the willing bidder to provide free 786 Kbps broadband 95% of the U.S. population within ten years, if has become apparent to me that most of these efforts are about deploying new networks in new spectrum in an effort to provide broadband to as many of us living in the United States as possible.
I have a different view of what we could and should be doing to provide broadband to as many people as possible and I have written a white paper outlining my ideas, and rationale for these ideas. The white paper is posted on our web-site. Below you will find the executive summary which discusses the basic of the plan, more detail is provided in the actual white paper.
The new administration, like many in the past, has pledgedto make extending the reach of broadband services to all who live and work in the United States a priority. With a fresh approach that focuses on economics rather than technology, this noble goal may be within reach.
According to Internet World Stats, as of June 2008, there were more than 220,000,000 Internet users in the United States, which translates to 72.5% of the population. However, of this number, only 55% have broadband access at home, while another 9% have broadband access at work. Dial-up service is used by 9% of the U.S. Internet population, leaving 24% with no access.
As the new administration works toward broadband access for all, it is important to focus not on a single technology or single slice of radio spectrum to provide this ubiquitous access. Broadband to all will not be a reality until the economic issues are resolved. In the case of rural America, economics have been a barrier to wider deployment of broadband services, and in other areas where broadband is available, there are those who cannot afford it, especially in the current economic climate.
Past administrations have attempted numerous times to devise a single, nationwide plan to provide broadband access to all, and at least one of these pending nationwide solutionsrequires the spectrum winner to provide 25% of its bandwidth for free to all who want it, but at a speed that, while higher than dial-up service, is at the low end of what might be considered broadband speeds.
This white paper proposes that the administration, as well as the private sector, take a different approach to providing broadband services for everyone. Instead of concentrating on finding a single technology solution, which will cost billions of dollars to build and take ten years or more to complete, we are advocating the use of a combination of existing technologies—wired, cable, fiber, wireless, and satellite—and using different technologies in different areas rather than attempting to blanket the nation with a common network with access to the Internet, which is itself another common network. The best technologies for providing coverage in urban areas are not necessarily the best technologies for providing coverage in rural America.
As you will find in the following pages, we concentrate more on the dual economic problemsof deploying broadband for everyone. The first problem is how to make broadband available to those who already have it but, for whatever reasons, have not taken advantage of available services. The second problem is how to deploy broadband services in rural areas where the number of people per square mile makes deploying any technology economically unfeasible.
We also discuss how we view the Internet and websites accessible via the Internet. The Internet is like a highway system in that it provides access. In some regards it is a toll road because everyone who enters the Internet is paying for access in one form or another to do so. Once they have entered, much of the available content is free or appears to be free, perhaps being paid for by advertising. This is an important distinction because many who are looking at the “wireless Internet” as being the future of the Internet believe that, like a highway, its use should be free to all comers, and that those who have spent billions of dollars to provide wireless access are not entitled to a return on their investment. Oft cited is the idea that highways are free so a wireless highway leading to the Internet should be free. But highways are not free; we pay for using them in many ways over the course of a year. We pay for our car registration and multiple taxes on every gallon of gas we use, and some of our local, state, and federal taxes are used to ensure we have the roads we need and that they are properly maintained.
We need to understand that access to the Internet, whether wired or wireless, costs us money either directly or indirectly and that there is a premium for wireless access, just as there is for wireless voice access because huge investments are being made by the incumbent network operators and newcomers such as Clearwire and the cable companies.
The way to provide broadband to everyone in the United States is to stop trying to find a single technology solution and address the two economic issues, either together or separately, and work toward solving them. If we can make the economic models work, we have a choice of dozens of technologies, many of which are available today and some of which are only a few years into the future. Technology will not solve the problem of broadband access. Solving the economic issues that have kept technologies from being deployed in many parts of the nation and solving the economic issues for those in inner cities and elsewhere who could have access if they had the resources will.
There is no one technology or network, and there is no one economic way to empower or require one company to spend billions of dollars on a single network to cover the U.S. population, even if that company believes it can succeed. If we back a single solution to solve our broadband connectivity problems over the next ten years, we will not achieve our goal.
The right way to approach this issue is to understand that there are many technologies available to provide service, there are many companies capable of providing the service, and in areas where there is no broadband, potential customers are willing to pay for the service. It must also be understood that the best network solution for New York or Washington, DC may not be the best solution for Boise or Ketchum, Idaho.
Broadband for all who live and work in the United States is a goal we should try to reach, but the best way to reach it in the shortest period of time is to understand that two very different economic models are at the crux of the problem. Unless we spend more time finding ways to deal with these economic models and less time trying to identify a single technology or solution, we will not have broadband for all during this and perhaps even the next administration.
Andrew M. Seybold