Kevin Taglang, recently published an excellent explanatory post for the Benton Foundation entitled What Section 706 Means for Net Neutrality, Municipal Networks, and Universal Broadband. He provides just the right amount of detail to get one up top speed on the upcoming decision and why it promises to be so influential. Additionally, he summarizes many federal programs relating to Internet access.
We already know that February 26th will be an historic day in telecommunications. On that day, the FCC's decision on new network neutrality rules and municipal broadband networks has the potential to literally change millions of lives. The decision will impact education, economic development, jobs, healthcare, communications, utilities - you name it.
Taglang fittingly describes the series of findings from the FCC as a three act play. Read the text of the play, anticipate the conflict, see how the characters clash, and you will be the dramaturge.
Act I: The FCC Considers U.S. Broadband and Finds It Lacking:
In addition to other factors, the FCC looked at the way we defined broadband (4 Mbps/1 Mbps), what capacity is needed to align with the way households use broadband (as in multiple devices simultaneously), and how ISPs market their services (25 Mbps as a minimum downstream acceptable).
Accessibility rates showed divergent results based on urban and rural geography. The agency reassessed what is needed in schools for students and staff. The result was a decision to redefine broadband as 25 Mbps/3 Mbps and, once the agency determined that, the landscape changed dramatically. In January, the FCC adopted the Broadband Progress Report for 2015 [PDF], which asked what is advanced telecommunications capability now and are all Americans able to access that capacity?
From the arcticle:
Given these gaps in availability, the FCC concluded that advanced telecommunications capability is not being deployed to all Americans in a reasonable and timely fashion. And, in light of this finding, the FCC must “take immediate action to accelerate deployment of such capability by removing barriers to infrastructure investment and by promoting competition in the telecommunications market.”
Act II: Major Federal Efforts to Expand the Reach of Broadband
Taglang documents the many programs, funds, orders, and initiatives at the federal level aimed at promoting broadband. The White House, the FCC, and the Departments of Agriculture and Commerce have been particularly active. Nevertheless, broadband in the USA is not moving fast enough.
Act III: Notice of Inquiry on Immediate Action to Accelerate Broadband Deployment
In addition to the progress Report, the FCC established a Notice of Inquiry to find ways to remove the barriers to infrastructure investment and promote competition. Taglang writes:
The FCC’s NOI asks for comment on additional actions it can take to increase competition, remove barriers to market entry or stimulate the offering of innovative services. For example, are there efforts in addition to those we have taken that would encourage providers to enter the market or expand their reach to unserved or underserved areas, including Tribal lands?
The FCC also seeks comment on how to address the disparity in broadband availability between Americans living in urban areas with those living in rural areas and Tribal lands. This gap, the FCC notes, is, by itself, the basis for a determination that broadband is not being deployed to all Americans in a reasonable and timely fashion.
Finally, the FCC asks if there are additional actions it could take to reduce the number of schools that lack high-capacity broadband.
With these three major acts in mind, the expected result will be a timely implementation of ubiquitous broadband in the U.S., writes Taglang. He is sensible, however:
There are no silver bullets or single efforts that can get us there on their own. It will take pragmatic policy choices and sustained policy attention in a variety of areas -- from new policies around lowering barriers to pole attachments, deployment of fiber, improved access to programming, access to spectrum, a vigorous competition policy agenda, and policies that continue to enable innovation in the content and services that broadband can deliver and that can transform the way we work, the way we live, and the way we learn. Ultimately, that is the challenge that is before us. And the reason that Congress gave us Section 706 in the first place.