Monday, October 05, 2009

FCC's Levin: Private sector must foot bill for broadband build out

A Multichannel News item today quotes Blair Levin, the Federal Communications Commission's broadband czar, as telling an FCC meeting last week on the broadband deployment plan mandated by Congress that it will largely fall to the private sector to fund the build out America's broadband infrastructure.

Whatever the cost, FCC broadband consultant Blair Levin conceded that private industry will foot most of the bill.

“We have to recognize that most of this [broadband] ecosystem is funded by the private sector, and we expect that to continue,” said Levin. "But government has a role to move whichever levers are necessary to improve the health of that ecosystem, he said.

I respectfully submit Levin's analysis is too limited in scope. The ecosystem will also require substantial public sector involvement and that of non governmental organizations (NGOs) like nonprofit telecom consumer cooperatives that bridged the gap at the beginning of the 20th century when investor owned telephone companies shunned their communities because they couldn't afford to both serve them and earn a return for their investors.

Reconstructing America's outdated single purpose, copper-based analog telecom infrastucture and replacing it with the open access, next generation fiber to the premises Internet Protocol-based system it needs now and in the future is an enormously costly endeavor that cannot be borne solely by investor-owned telcos and cable companies.

In developing its forthcoming national broadband plan, the FCC has estimated it would cost $350 billion to build this kind of infrastructure. So costly in fact that just days after the FCC issued that estimate, the
James L. Knight Foundation issued a report equating the task of building adequate infrastructure ensuring all Americans have access to the modern digital telecommunications necessary for a 21st century democracy to the Eisenhower administration's 1950s project to build the interstate highway system.

Had the private sector been relied upon to foot the cost of the massive highway project, Route 66 might have been in use as the nation's main cross county highway until only recently instead of serving as a reminiscent film setting of post WWII America.

Levin's suggestion the private sector primarily bear the cost of updating the nation's telecom infrastructure is also at odds with remarks by another Obama administration official at the
Broadband Stimulus National Town Hall held in Washington in early June. Market failure has constrained the ability of America's privately owned telecom infrastructure to deliver universally accessible broadband-based services, requiring government to fill the gap, Jim Kohlenberger, chief of staff for the White House’s Office of Science and Technology told gathering, according to a BroadbandCensus.com report.

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