Wednesday, December 16, 2009

FCC draft broadband plan: Incorrect diagnosis, wrong prescription

The U.S. Federal Communications Commission today unveiled the underlying policy principles that will frame the plan it must present to Congress in February to expand advanced telecommunications infrastructure to ensure all Americans have broadband access. The FCC was charged with developing the plan under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 signed into law by President Barack Obama in February.

A basic principle is encouraging competition to "build on the attributes of the American broadband ecosystem." That's something of a head scratcher as Tim Nulty and other experts have accurately pointed out that telecommunications infrastructure is a natural and not market-created monopoly. It's a lack of adequate infrastructure -- and not vendors who want to offer services over it -- that has brought about the large gaps in broadband availability in the United States.

Given that, it's not apparent how encouraging competition will even begin to fulfill the Obama administration's goal of universal broadband access. The problem isn't lack of competitors. It's lack of any providers because their for profit business models simply don't allow them to profitably deploy infrastructure within broadband black holes. No amount of enhanced competition can alter that business reality.

If the FCC accepts that reality, then its final recommendation to Congress in February must by implication call for alternative ownership and business models for last mile -- and some middle mile -- telecom infrastructure.

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