Monday, March 23, 2015

US federal government will have to provide substantial funding for Internet infrastructure construction

Obama: This federal council will jumpstart broadband - CNET: Obama first introduced this idea in January, when he traveled to Cedar Falls, Iowa to announce his plan to promote "Broadband that Works," a public-private effort to help more Americans get access to speedier broadband.

As part of this new push, he urged the FCC to strike down state laws to ensure communities could build or expand their own 1 gigabit-per-second networks, which offer downloads 100 times faster than conventional connections.

The new council will include 25 federal agencies and departments that will work with private industry to understand how the federal government can help communities increase broadband investment and reduce barriers to deployment. The council will be co-chaired by the U.S. Commerce and Agriculture departments. The council will report back to Obama, within 150 days, with the steps each agency will take to advance these goals, including specific regulatory actions or budget proposals.

The biggest barrier to Internet infrastructure investment is private market failure on the sell side. That's been patently obvious for more than a decade; it doesn't take more than two dozen federal agencies and departments to ascertain that. The existing dominant U.S. commercial model for providing telecommunications services is based on selling "subscriptions" to and "owning" the customer, consistent with the natural monopoly market that favors large vertically integrated legacy telephone and cable TV providers.

Its primary weakness is it is wholly dependent on ARPU and ROI which don't easily pencil out in much of the nation and aren't likely to given that labor costs that make up about 70 percent of network deployment and maintenance expense are not declining and don't benefit from economies of scale. This produces an all or nothing scenario and lots of winners and losers -- with millions of premises stuck in the latter category for nearly two decades.

If the United States is to have modern telecommunications infrastructure in the 21st century that serves all Americans wherever they live or operate their businesses, the federal government must commit big as it did for electrification, water, telephone and highways in the 20th century. The states don't have the funding to do the job on their own such as Maine, for example, where the state has appropriated only $1 million to fund Internet infrastructure projects that won't go very far when billions are needed. In New York, $500 million in matching public funds isn't attracting much interest as legacy incumbent providers stand warily on the sidelines.

What will be truly interesting is what regulatory actions and budget proposals will be recommended by the newly created federal council. On the regulatory front, the Federal Communications Commission has already acted by deeming the Internet as a common carrier telecommunications service. That leaves it up to fiscal strategies, which should include substantial technical assistance and infrastructure funding for the states along the lines of existing block grant and federal highway programs. Or in recognition that the nation is a generation behind on construction progress, the federal government could built it directly on a crash program basis with early completion bonuses for contractors. Then operate the network on an open access basis, contracting for operations and maintenance and leasing out access to providers under long term contracts.

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