Wednesday, August 05, 2009

New FCC chair must consider alternative business models for telecom infrastructure

Newly minted Federal Communications Commission Chairman Julius Genachowski has kicked off a major initiative to get the United States' telecommunications infrastructure upgraded so that it can deliver broadband to all Americans.

In meetings with newspaper editorial boards, Genachowski noted 40 percent of U.S. households don't subscribe to broadband. "That's not where you want to be on something that we think is a core infrastructure for the United States," he told reporters and editors of the San Jose Mercury News this week. "And I think it is. Broadband will be our platform for commerce, for democratic engagement, and for addressing a whole series of vital national priorities."

To accomplish his goal of full build out of advanced telecommunications infrastructure, Genachowski, who is to present a plan to Congress in February to make it happen, will clearly have to consider alternative business models. The current model in which most telecom infrastructure is held by large publicly traded corporations cannot because it lacks sufficient patient capital to make the necessary investment. These companies can play an important role in providing long haul Internet backbone and much of the middle mile infrastructure. But to ensure last mile access, nonprofit telecommunications cooperatives, small local providers and local governments will have to play the same role they did in the early part of the 20th century where they provided electrical, water and telecommunications infrastructure where shareholder-held companies could not profitably do so.

Genachowski should also recommend Congress put in place incentives to help bridge the last mile gap such as tax breaks allowing property owners to deduct initial costs they would pay to join telecom cooperatives offering fiber connections to their properties.

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