Saturday, March 13, 2010

The FCC and Broadband

Without question, Steve Earle gave us the anthem for the Bush-era FCC:

All that time the FCC wasted on the prudish pursuit of punishing wardrobe malfunctions and profane speech on the airwaves would have been so much better spent actually policing the spectrum for the public good. The public good here would be access to and efficient use of the spectrum, rather than worrying about the delicate ears and constitutions of media consumers. And, despite my many misgivings about the Obama administration, I do want to point out that it appears the administration is doing good work in realigning the agency's priorities. The New York Times is reporting today that the F.C.C. is proposing a 10-year plan to realign the communications infrastructure of the US through massive support for broadbrand expansion. The plan includes mandates for the broadband equivalent of rural electrification, as well as the ambition to have 100 million homes wired with 100 megabit connections in the next decade. This comes on the heels last month of Google announcing a pilot program to connect between 50,000 and 500,000 to gigabyte fiber. Damn, I'd love to have that fiber connected to my house!

The distinction between the two goals demonstrates the extent to which the FCC has neglected the communications infrastructure of the US. Two years ago, the US ranked (pdf) 15th in broadband access, with average download speeds of just 4.9Mbps compared to the leaders South Korea (49.5Mpbs) and Japan (63.6Mbps). If you look at the other important number on the list there, household penetration, the US fairs even worse-- something like 20th.

In addition to pushing the spread of 100Mbps household connections, the FCC recognizes the need to expand mobile broadband, and is proposing to reclaim part of the spectrum from broadcast television to accomplish this. The US American public seems to have forgotten that the spectrum is a public resource granted/leased to radio/tv/internet companies. Recovery of a robust FCC willing to regulate the spectrum will be key to the future of the US economy, as well as maintaining net neutrality.