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To judge FCC broadband plan, rank your priorities first

The Federal Communications Commission just published its National Broadband Plan: its initiative, as chartered by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act last year, to expand the availability of high-speed Internet access throughout the United States.

It will take me a little while to digest this 359-page document (PDF), but its outlines are already clear, as I summarized here yesterday and as my cubicle neighbor Cecilia Kang wrote in a front-page story today. The FCC plans to free up another 500 MHz of wireless spectrum for broadband use (a tricky process, since it will involve existing spectrum users giving up some first); subsidize the deployment of broadband in rural and other underserved areas; promote transparency in markets by researching and documenting the finer points of broadband services; and streamline regulations governing the deployment of fast Internet infrastructure.

Some of that can sound like tinkering around the edges, but as a press release (PDF) issued yesterday spells out, the FCC has ambitious goals: providing 100 megabits-per-second access to 100 million households, moving broadband adoption rates from 65 to 90 percent and bringing "affordable" 1 gigabit-per-second access to schools, hospitals, military bases and other critical users.

To judge the FCC's proposal fairly, we first need to define the problems we're trying to solve. The commission released its own research on this last month, a study (PDF) that reported affordability was the biggest perceived obstacle to more American signing up for broadband. Availability ranked far lower on respondents' list of concerns, a finding that many of you disputed in your comments on my blog post on the FCC study, in which I cast doubt on the idea that broadband is always expensive.

Now I'd like to throw this question out to the audience: What's your major gripe about the state of the broadband business today? Take the poll, then explain your choice in the comments.

By Rob Pegoraro  |  March 16, 2010; 10:06 AM ET
Categories:  Policy and politics , Telecom  
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I think for the ubiquity of the internet, and the world-wide dependence on it for everything, fast and dependable internet access should be almost a birthright. Instead, we are at the mercy of the cable and telephone companies to provide the services, and their profit-driven practices are often at odds with the needs of their client. I put price as my main driver, but speed--having to wait for downloads, unavailable sites, multiple tries for uploads--is a big factor in the efficiency of the system. I like the idea of cloud computing for business, and it's an idea whose time has come, but its dependence on the speed and reliability of the systems is scary.

Posted by: maxinea | March 16, 2010 12:00 PM | Report abuse

Re: All of the above

If it's not available, how do you know if it's fast enough?

Posted by: scottilla | March 16, 2010 12:26 PM | Report abuse

True broadband isn't available here. Cellular, which is, has two companies, both cost 60.00dollars per month for five gigs @ less than 2 Megs per second speed.

Satellite is as expensive, and as limited.

The cable provider and the telephone provider both refuse to extend service beyond their core areas.

True, multiplayer competition does not exist because the core areas, where the easy profit is located, is always retained by the major provider, and the areas left could not support any company without the additional income from these core areas.

It's what telephone and electric service would look like if the law hadn't forced expansion in the last century.

Posted by: maxtor0 | March 16, 2010 1:42 PM | Report abuse

After all the effort that was put into the digital TV transition, none of the existing TV spectrum should be given up for this. This spectrum is already crowded, and forcing the over-the air operators to give up spectrum would only provide even more profits to the cable/satellite providers and less incentive for them to keep costs down. Channels 52-69 were already given up. That is enough. If more spectrum was ceded, it would probably mean loss of HD capability for over-the-air users. Preserve free over-the-air TV, as it is a public resource.

Posted by: alrob8 | March 16, 2010 1:53 PM | Report abuse

While both Comcast and Qwest operate in my area, Comcast is too expensive and Qwest's service is abysmal, the worst I've ever experienced. ANYONE else willing to provide service would be welcome. I wish there were more competition on price, service and speed.

Posted by: krazykat23 | March 16, 2010 2:03 PM | Report abuse

I am fortunate enough to live in DC where I can get RCN cable. They are arguably the best available, and certainly far better than Comcast. RCN does have its problems, including totally clueless technical support and multi-day waits for on-site repairs. Their market share is so low I wonder how much longer they can survive. Fiber Optics DSL from Verizon? Not in my lifetime.

Posted by: RAB2 | March 16, 2010 2:56 PM | Report abuse

I've been on broadband for 10 years, but ONLY when I lived in a large city. It's simply not available in rural areas where I would like to live. So far, the cable companies that I've dealt with have had expensive and very unreliable service. When in Dallas, I even went back to dialup for a year because the ComCast service there was so bad. The only broadband connection that has been reliable is DSL.

Posted by: charlie13 | March 16, 2010 2:58 PM | Report abuse

I have a friend in rural Wyoming...he finally had to go satellite...the only option besides dial up. He pays through the nose but, I guess, decided he had to bite the bullet. At least Satellite was an option.

Posted by: tbva | March 16, 2010 3:07 PM | Report abuse

I'm in Winchester VA:

1. No FIOS, and little probability
2. Verizon DSL is relatively inexpensive with muliple options starting at about 15/mo. with decent customer svc access, short waits, but recently (I think) switched to Cust. Svc reps in India , making easy communication an issue. They couldn't schedule a tech visit without two long holds while they contacted the local office first, then verified. Irritating.
3. Comcast Cable is available for internet but their Cust. Svc sucks, even just to inquire about what's available. Prices goes up after initial period.

We need competition, and more for our money.

Posted by: tojo45 | March 16, 2010 3:18 PM | Report abuse

My gripe?

It doesn't even come down to what company provides broadband because it's all a big game.

Speeds much faster are available and they strain those speeds through a straw as if that's all they can allow or process.


Internet speeds are being purposely held back for the sake of the dollar, plain and simple.

The technology has far surpassed what the market gives you the impression is available.

Only those who are not true techies or curious enough to find out for themselves wonder which company to go with. As long as you have broadband, be happy until the next wave of tech rolls out...while South Korea, China and Japan laugh at the speeds we all have.

Based on Akamai's State of the Internet report for 2009, we're ranked what....33rd in the world? HAHAHAHAHA!!! We were ranked 17th in 2007! What happened? Even the Czech Republic is better!

So much for a technology push eh?

How's that for you Apple geeks? You're no better than Windows users. we all watch Hulu at the saaaaaaaaaaaaaaame speeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeed...*watches turtle walk past keyboard*

Posted by: cbmuzik | March 16, 2010 3:27 PM | Report abuse

FCC Releases its National Broadband Plan: Why Does it Matter?

Better access to high-speed Internet boosts economic output. In the U.S. we could increase GDP 4.55% by ensuring that every American has access to broadband services. Clearly, it’s not just about playing online games and downloading hi-def movies. Broadband Internet has become important in every corner of the U.S. economy, and could become more so – from telecommuting to telemedicine to remote education. Yet in this critical infrastructure area the U.S. ranks 15th in the world – behind France, Japan, Korea, Sweden (and 10 others). The FCC’s plan could change that. Heaven knows we need all the help we can get to stay competitive.

Posted by: MyAIC | March 16, 2010 5:49 PM | Report abuse

If you think that broadband access is expensive now, just wait until the government begins mandating its delivery and breadth of access. Costs are now determined by market forces, but a set of artificial requirements will only push them higher. The result will require greater levels of government subsidization, and along with government's financial contribution will come increasing levels of government regulation.

Remember how Washington was going to fix cable and satellite providers? What has happened to cable and satellite bills since that tinkering? Has a la carte programing ever been seriously proposed?

The short (and sure) answer is: government will force the industry to do the impossible on an unsustainable economic model, will then step in with increasing levels of subsidization, and will use that vested interest to exert greater control over the apparatus itself.

Posted by: DashHCF | March 16, 2010 6:17 PM | Report abuse

I'm lucky...I can get Verizon DSL in Leonardtown. The local cable outfit, MetroCast wanted more than $4k to wire to our house; they wouldn't let me run cable when the electric and phone lines were installed from the road.
Have friends in Bushwood, Chaptico and Avenue who have to go w/ dialup or a sat dish as cable hasn't reached those areas.

Posted by: AStMarysConstituient | March 16, 2010 8:19 PM | Report abuse

tojo45 - Check with Visual Link and see what they currently over in the valley area. I've had good support and service for a number of years with them.

Posted by: gmclain | March 16, 2010 9:01 PM | Report abuse

Major gripe : too expensive

Posted by: observer31 | March 16, 2010 9:37 PM | Report abuse

cbmuzik made a good point. In South Korea and Japan, 100 mps in the broadband is norm. When do get the speed in US? While companies like Verizon and Comcast are holding customers in Dark ages, even under-developed countries would pass us soon.

Posted by: furan12 | March 16, 2010 10:34 PM | Report abuse

I chose "not enough competition",but "not enough competition" = "not cheap enough"&"not fast enough". And I always calculated broadband access into where to lives Rural broadband access was going to be too expensive or non-existent.

Posted by: Hattrik | March 16, 2010 10:37 PM | Report abuse

I live in an area where the population density (supposedly) ensures that competition and economy of scale will keep services like energy, communication, education, etc., efficient. Remind me why I should subsidize the inefficiency of providing these services to low density areas?

Posted by: EricMentzell | March 16, 2010 11:09 PM | Report abuse

Dear adherents to the TFMNR (totally-free-market-no-regulation) religion:

Capitalism runs on infrastructure. Countries like S. Korea understand this and ensure that competitive infrastructure is provided. S. Korea is about to spend over $24B (less than 4% from gov, rest telecom industry) and create over 100K jobs to provide 1Gb/s wired and 10Mb/s wireless internet throughout the country. Even now single rural properties get 2-8 Mb/s ADSL. For some reason, this highly-mountainous country is willing and able to do this.

All of it has taken place, and will take place, under the auspices of the (horrors!) government Korean Communications Commission. They take it as given that today's telephone technology will be replaced by internet-based voice/vision communication. This will become the standard for business communication, and they'll be ready.

Countries without the bandwidth will tend to become backwaters. Since the US telecom industry, with all the lead time and opportunity for competition that they have had, has managed to get us only to 33rd in the world, somebody else in the US will have to do something or we can all start learning Korean.

(Disclosure: I live in a rural area and use cellular internet at 1-2Mb/s, paying one of the two available services $60/mo. Interesting how the "competing" companies each independently arrived at that figure, isn't it?)

Posted by: dome-onion | March 17, 2010 1:06 PM | Report abuse

Re your broadband quiz, I included expense in my complaints. I had Verizon DSL, but it was slow, too expensive (Originally $29.95 but negotiated down to #19.95 plus a slough of taxes), and little else was available. Then I went with Verizon FIOS after my building was cable-wired. Better, but costlier. I'm now on a package with phone, unlimited toll calls, that runs over $80 per month with numerous taxes. And my download speeds still slow (700-950 KPS).

Posted by: ejmurphy414 | March 18, 2010 11:10 AM | Report abuse

There have been many comparisons to Korea and Japan. From wikipedia:
Korea 85k sq miles
73 million people
850 people per sq mile
Japan 145k sq miles
127 million people
873 people per sq mile
California 163k sq miles
36 million people
234 people per sq mile

There, folks, is why it is more expensive in the US. These countries that we are compared to are small with large urban populations. It doesn't cost nearly as much to get service to 850 people in Korea (1 sq mile) as to get service to the same number of people in CA (3 sq miles). Lots more cable for longer distances, more repeaters, and fewer customers for those services.

I do NOT work for any communication company. I pay dearly for my Time Warner cable TV and internet service. I agree that speeds could be better (DOCSIS 3 would help) and lower prices would be nice.

ejmurphy414: if you are only getting 700-950 k bits per second, then you need to get Fios back out to fix it (unless you are only paying for that speed). If you are getting 700-950k BYTES per second, then your are running at 6-8meg BITS per second. Not too bad, but on the slow side for FIOS. Try "" Their readings are in bits per second, which is how the providers advertise speeds.

Posted by: blasher | March 18, 2010 1:20 PM | Report abuse

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