Friday, July 03, 2009

U.S. government formally recognizes broadband "underserved"

One of the notable aspects of the U.S. government's changing policy vis broadband is the formal recognition that much of the nation is served by incomplete telecommunications infrastructure, incapable of delivering advanced telecommunications services.

We're not necessarily talking about remote or deep rural areas of the nation where population density is very low. Rather, it's large areas of the U.S. that can be found in metropolitan areas where service from existing wireline providers goes only so far into a community or down a street or road, creating highly arbitrary pools of broadband winners and losers. Exhibit A: Lots of folks have stumbled across this blog via online searches looking to solve the vexing riddle of why they can't order service while a nearby neighbor can.

The rules governing the disbursement of $7.2 billion in economic stimulus funding to build out broadband infrastructure to unserved and "underserved" areas issued by the federal govenment this week embody the formal recognition of this sad state of affairs:

"The term 'underserved' is not a common term in telecommunications, although it is commonly applied in other fields, such as healthcare, education, social services and retail, to denote populations lacking access to critical services," the rules note.

Newly installed Federal Communications Commission Chairman Julius Genachowski also referred to the problem of the broadband "underserved" before the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee at his confirmation hearing. The term, he testified, encompasses areas where there are pockets of unserved areas in places that generally have broadband (such as where one neighbor has service while another doesn't).

That's a tacit recognition of the incomplete nature of the nation's telecommunications infrastructure that in too many places is like a half built highway or bridge or at best, a rutted dirt road. Bringing America's telecommunications infrastructure to where it should have been a decade ago and where it needs to be in the future requires a clear recognition that broadband black holes aren't confined to rural areas. Unfortunately, they are comprised largely of Genachowski's "pockets" that are scattered all across the nation and can be found most anywhere and not just in rural areas.

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