Wednesday, March 05, 2014

U.S. Internet policy fails expectation of universal premise service

For nearly every American who has been alive since the end of World War II, the availability of telephone service at a home or business premise is taken for granted. Need a phone line or several lines? Contact the phone company, order them and they’ll get hooked up.

With wireline premises Internet service, it’s been a very different story. According to the U.S. Federal Communications Commission as of 2012, 19 million Americans couldn’t order an Internet connection because none was available for sale. Some of those Americans live in California’s Gold Country, located in the western foothills of the Sierra Nevada. And they can’t understand why if people in Sacramento -- or in many cases just down the road -- can get wireline Internet service, why can’t they? Plus they hear messages like this one that only five percent or fewer premises are unserved and have a hard time believing their home or business is one of them, particularly when nearby premises do have service.

It’s therefore unsurprising that “[m]any residents without access feel a sense of entitlement to broadband (Internet) service,” according to the Gold Country Broadband Consortium’s annual progress report. The consortium is among 14 regional consortia formed by the California Public Utilities Commission in 2011 to promote local Internet access and adoption of Internet-delivered services.

Unfortunately, neither California as the largest state nor the nation as a whole has a public policy to meet the expectation that Internet service in 2014 should be as ubiquitous as telephone service. Nor as the case with telephone service is there a workable subsidy program to ensure high cost areas are served.

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