From what we have seen of the upcoming broadband plan, it looks to solve very little. Karl Bode explains why the National Broadband Plan will deliver everything but what it is supposed to. Basically, it comes down to an Administration that is unwilling to challenge very powerful private sector interests.
The main question we need to ask when the plan comes out is how the plan will increase the power of communities to succeed in the 21st century. For more than a decade, private companies have decided when communities will receive the utility of the 21st century: broadband Internet access. They have decided, without any oversight from the community, what speeds are available and at what prices. Towns regularly lose businesses because incumbent providers offer only overpriced, slow connections.
In several states, communities are greatly limited in what telecom services they can provide -- legislation that protects the incumbents that refuse to invest in next generation networks. The National Broadband Plan should call for ending all state barriers on publicly owned networks.
The FCC has been quick to note that there are few federal funds to put into expanding broadband access. Great - all the more reason to stop subsidizing the private profits of incumbents with Universal Service programs that reward slow, overpriced connections to schools and rural residents. The Universal Service Fund must be reformed from a program that throws away money with inefficient, ongoing subsidies to private companies so they will run networks in rural areas. These areas should be served by cooperatives and other networks that operate in the public interest. If they require ongoing subsidization, the networks should operate in the public interest, not pad private profits.
We have one opportunity to transition from copper to fiber - if we waste this opportunity by cementing the power of the very companies that have refused to build the infrastructure we need, it will be our fault and our fault alone. The pathetic U.S. broadband situation was not inevitable and can be rectified by encouraging communities to be locally self-reliant rather than perpetually subsidizing private companies to offer services in rural areas -- where they will find every loophole to avoid improving services so they can increase their profits. This is a choice, not destiny. At this point, it looks like the FCC will choose poorly.