FCC's broadband plan: A possible dream
Are you satisfied with the Internet connection you're using to read this post?
But I suspect that most of you aren't too thrilled with your choice of Internet providers and would like to see more and cheaper options come to your home.
In particular, the FCC plan says nothing about implementing "open access" rules that other countries use to open limited telecom infrastructure, in some cases publicly owned, to competition. The FCC is not unaware of the concept -- see the study it commissioned from Harvard University's Berkman Center for Internet and Society as well as subsequent comments by that work's authors -- but opted to focus on what's possible.
Yet I don't know that the FCC could have done much more, given political realities today. Even its not-all-that-ambitious attempt to free up spectrum for broadband use will face opposition from TV stations that aren't using all of their available airwaves today but don't want to give up the option to provide new programming on them later on. (To get a sense of what frequencies we're talking about, check out the FCC's new "spectrum dashboard" site.)
The likeliest near-term benefits of the FCC plan may come from its proposal that the commission collect and publish data about Internet providers. If you can pull up objective reports about the download and upload speeds and reliability of services near your home, as seen in the graphic at left -- better yet, if you can plug in your address and see everybody who provides service there -- it will be a huge advance over shopping for broadband today.
It will take longer to see whether the FCC's ambitions of building wireless broadband into a realistic third way, after phone- and cable-based systems, will pan out. I can only hope so. (Note: Is it clearer now why the FCC's planned net-neutrality regulations cover both wireless and wired communication?)
I'll close by making what may seem an unrealistic request: Read the plan. Yes, it's 379 pages long (available in PDF and HTML form). But many of those pages are endnotes or blank transitions between chapters and sections; it's well researched, written and illustrated; and it shows serious thought in areas beyond the mechanics of Internet access.
As veteran telecom analyst Gary Arlen wrote in an e-mail: "The task force has done a remarkable job to show comprehensive, original thinking. ... The range of ideas challenges lawmakers and the various industries to open their eyes to trans-sector opportunities, ideas that require collaborative thinking and action for the communications element as well as the application or implementation in the 'national purpose' sections."
Those last sections include some fascinating bits (if you're the right sort of futurist wonk) on what sorts of things universal broadband could make possible: using "synchrophasors" to limit power blackouts, connecting text messaging with 911, secure online voting for troops overseas and a great deal more.
I'll be chatting online from noon to 1 today about broadband policy and any other personal-tech topics you've got in mind. In the meantime, post your own thoughts on your broadband choices -- and what, if anything, the likes of the FCC could do to improve them -- in the comments.
March 19, 2010; 10:51 AM ET
Categories: Policy and politics , Telecom
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