Monday, July 03, 2017

Continued reliance on legacy telephone and cable company "broadband speeds" to define American telecom infrastructure modernization policy will result in continued frustratingly slow, incremental and inadequate progress

Trump's Rural Internet Could Cost $80 Bil | The Daily Caller: One problem is how much the federal government should subsidize the initiative. Trump’s administration hasn’t released an exact amount for how much building internet infrastructure in rural areas will cost, but according to an Obama-era study released in January, providing coverage to 98 percent of rural America will cost about $80 billion. If the government invests $40 billion, it could still reach around 94 percent of the uncovered areas.

The referenced Obama administration study was round filed by the Trump administration on Feb. 3, 2017.

The administration has several initiatives to work on rural broadband. The Federal Communications Commission started the Rural Broadband Auctions Task Force several months ago, which will offer “$2 billion to [internet provider] bidders to connect unserved and underserved locations over the next decade.” 

That amount is woefully inadequate as the now redacted FCC study suggests and explains why incumbent telephone companies are using this funding solely for limited buildouts of legacy 1990s DSL over copper and in the case of AT&T, adding special antenna equipment to its 4G LTE mobile service infrastructure to serve customer premises. That service will share radio spectrum bandwidth with mobile users and likely only approximate 1990s DSL service during peak evening hours, particularly as customers stream high bandwidth video. 


Lawmakers from rural states, however, are pushing for complete internet coverage. The FCC “must accurately target every area that is in need of support so that no one is left behind,” Republican Mississippi Sen. Roger Wicker and West Virginia Democrat Sen. Joe Manchin wrote in a letter to FCC chairman Ajit Pai in April.

Certainly well intended. But the devil is in the details. American public policy on telecom infrastructure modernization has gotten hopelessly bogged down over the use of "broadband speed" to define who is served with advanced modern telecom infrastructure and who isn't. That paradigm derives from the 1990s when throughput speed defined what differentiates "broadband" from early 1990s first generation narrowband dialup service that's still in use today. The type and quality of telecom infrastructure can vary widely over relatively small areas with some premises offered only dialup over decades-old copper while others just a mile or two away have cable DOCSIS service or fiber to the premise (FTTP). That's why this challenge cannot be accurately framed as a "rural" issue since these very disparities exist in nominally rural areas.

Continued reliance on "broadband speeds" provided by incumbent legacy telephone and cable companies to define American policy goals on telecom infrastructure modernization will result in the same frustratingly slow, incremental and inadequate progress of the past two decades. Going forward, the federal government should form and initially appropriate $200 billion to a 501(c)(1) nonprofit to build and own open access FTTP infrastructure serving every American doorstep where FTTP is not currently in place. FTTP infrastructure will provide the most bang for the buck measured in overall economic benefit and generate tax revenues to pay for it. Unlike the technologies being funded under the FCC's Connect America Fund (CAF), FTTP is far less prone to technological obsolescence. Publicly owned open access FTTP also fits well with the evolving business strategies of the legacy telecos and cablecos that are shifting to concentrate on mobile wireless and video entertainment content. It will also free telcos of the burden of maintaining obsolete copper cable networks designed for a bygone era of analog voice telephone service.

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