Friday, February 08, 2008

At broadband crisis point, U.S. should invest $100 billion to build 100 Mbs fiber to every home by 2012

The United States is so rapidly falling behind other developed nations when it comes to broadband access that it’s reached a crisis point demanding a bold new course of action, posits a January 2008 white paper by EDUCAUSE.

EDUCAUSE describes itself as a nonprofit comprised of colleges, universities, educational organizations and corporations to advance higher education by promoting the intelligent use of information technology. The white paper, A Blueprint for Big Broadband, argues the current national policy that relies exclusively on private sector telecommunications companies to build out broadband infrastructure is flawed because they are unable to respond quickly enough to rapidly growing demand for faster speeds driven by increased use of video and other bandwidth intensive applications.

Private sector wire line broadband providers are driven by short term economic incentives and operate within — at most — five year time horizons. This has led to drastically slashed R&D spending and curtailed broadband deployments that would serve large unserved areas of the country.

The result in an incomplete broadband infrastructure that doesn’t extend to many homes and businesses, creating choke points on the “last mile.”

Instead, the U.S. should from a public-private partnership to invest nearly $100 billion to build an open access fiber to the premises (FTTP) local infrastructure to ensure every home in the nation has access to at least 100 Mbs (and capable of scaling up to 1 Gbs) by 2012.

How to raise the $100 billion? A Universal Broadband Fund (UBF) modeled after one used in Canada that would get a third of its funding from the feds in the form of direct appropriations or bond proceeds, another one third from the states, and the remainder from private or public sector providers. The UBF would allocate $8 billion per year for four years to be distributed to the states, which would put up matching funds.

"The U.S. broadband crisis is a unique challenge,” wrote the author of the 74-page white paper, telecommunications attorney and consultant John Windhausen Jr. “Unlike past threats to our future competitiveness, the solution to our broadband connectivity crisis is primarily local. The benefits of broadband connectivity are felt directly by every consumer and business, and final decisions must involve our local leaders under a comprehensive federal program. The United States needs to move beyond the rhetoric and begin to adopt a specific action plan for the future.”

The comprehensive report also includes a detailed and current summary of actions by state and local governments to improve broadband access for their residents.

I have questioned the adequacy of state government broadband initiatives since they typically provide funding in 10s to low $100 millions in the form of grants and loans, which isn’t going to be sufficient incentive to private sector providers to deploy fiber infrastructure on the scale called for in the EDUCAUSE white paper.

The key to the success of the proposed UBF is getting the federal government on board as willing partner with the states and the private sector. That’s not likely to happen unless feds are convinced of the white paper’s assertion that universal access to fast broadband will benefit the U.S. economy and its global competitiveness. Congress may be receptive to attempts to make that case given its approval this week of a $150 billion economic stimulus plan.

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