When it comes to broadband, I’m a socialist. Why? Because broadband service in the United States is currently provided by a cableco/telco duopoly, and, as such, is slower and more expensive than in most of the developed world, studies show. Because I don't believe the FCC can fix that lack of competition within the current regulatory framework, despite the ambitious goals set forth in its National Broadband Plan. Because a reasonably-priced alternative to cable or telco broadband might be just the thing to bring competition to the industry and spur U.S. broadband cost and quality to world-class levels. Because our connectedness increasingly dictates our our economic standing in the world: Broadband is as important to us as the interstate highway system--a public works project--was to Eisenhower-era America.
Taking Advantage of Chairman Genachowski's Gigabit Challenge
On Friday, I wrote a harsh, quick response to FCC Chairman's Genachowski's so-called gigabit challenge announced in a guest column on Forbes.
Since then, I have learned more about the 1 Gbps Challenge and I have to reiterate my frustration with it. We need the Chairman to reduce barriers to community-owned networks, not just recognize their successes. I'm not the only one reacting this way - Karl Bode has a thoughtful response as well.
Let me start by giving some credit: Thank you for recognizing that the cable and DSL companies are failing to deliver the networks communities need. This announcement should be used to pressure the existing providers to invest in their networks. It is another important piece of evidence that communities having to choose only between cable networks and a slower DSL option are being left behind.
But we need to also recognize that pressuring the existing providers to do better is not a solution in itself. Our slow, overpriced networks are the symptom of a problem, not the problem itself. The problem is that the massive cable and DSL companies are unaccountable to most of the communities they serve. Begging for more investment is better than doing nothing, but solves few problems.
I have a challenge for the FCC Chairman: Use your power to make it less of a challenge for communities to build the networks they need. For too long, you have sat silently by as massive telecommunications firms made it all but impossible for smaller entities - public and private - to build competing networks. When the FCC Chairman finally gets around to supporting communities with definitive action to reduce the many unnecessary industry-created barriers to competition, that will actually be praise-worthy.
Communities are smart to find ways of building their own networks, whether by owning and operating or finding partners to help. Nearly all the communities in the U.S. that have gigabit (and symmetrical at that!) connectivity today are served by networks owned by the community. This includes Chattanooga, Morristown, and Bristol in Tennessee; Lafayette in Louisiana; Bristol, Virginia; Burlington, Vermont; and the communities in Utah served by UTOPIA. Also, Chelan Public Utility District offers up to 1 Gbps connections in many communities in Washington State.
This is why we have to remove unnecessary barriers to public investment in their own networks and encourage communities to take responsibility for their own future. As Harold DePriest asked when announcing that Chattanooga would build its own FTTH network, "The issue is, does our community control our own fate, or does someone else control it?"