Saturday, November 07, 2009

Shifting telecom paradigm poses challenge as FCC crafts broadband plan

The U.S. Federal Communications Commission is drafting recommendations due to Congress in a little more than three month's time on a national policy to ensure universal broadband access.

It's no easy task. The reason? We're in the midst of a paradigm shift away from yesterday's proprietary, closed single purpose telephone and cable systems to an open Internet-based system that can deliver everything these systems provided and so much more.

In fact, yesterday's closed telco/cable paradigm is itself the major impediment to universal broadband because its business model cannot easily accommodate that goal. Subsidizing it to expand broadband access using old models designed to expand access to the basic telephone service of yesteryear isn't likely to accomplish the goal of universal broadband access. The subsidies will prove to be too little, too late (such as this legislative proposal to expand the Universal Service Fund to include broadband defined as the soon to be obsolete speed of 1.5 Mbs), unable to keep up with the rapid advance of IP-based applications and their accompanying demand for ever greater speeds and bandwidth. It's like like subsidizing mainframe computing and keypunch machines in a new distributed computing age of powerful servers and microcomputers.

It is therefore essential that the FCC think outside of the box of the legacy telco/cable duopoly and look to innovative approaches and alternative business models as it prepares its recommendations. At the top of the list should be locally owned and operated open access fiber to the premises infrastructure. Whether these systems are operated by local governments, cooperatives or public/private partnerships, they can be more rapidly deployed and are thus more likely to expediently meet the goal of expanding broadband access to all Americans while simultaneously providing protection against technological obsolescence.

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