FCC: Broad­band spread­ing too slowly across Amer­ica

re­port of­fers rec­om­men­da­tions to boost con­nec­tions; tele­com firms wary of more reg­u­la­tion

Austin American-Statesman - - BUSINESS BRIEFING - By Joelle Tessler

WASHINGTON — Fed­eral reg­u­la­tors have con­cluded that the broad­band mar­ket is not bring­ing high-speed In­ter­net con­nec­tions to all Amer­i­cans quickly enough.

In a re­port set to be re­leased as early as to­day, the Fed­eral Com­mu­ni­ca­tions Com­mis­sion says broad­band is not be­ing made avail­able to all Amer­i­cans in “a rea­son­able and timely fashion.” Al­though the re­port is the FCC’s sixth look at the state of broad­band since Congress man­dated in 1996 that it start track­ing high­speed In­ter­net con­nec­tions, it marks the first time that the agency has con­cluded the mar­ket is not work­ing in all cor­ners of the coun­try.

The FCC’s na­tional broad­band plan, re­leased in March, found that be­tween 14 mil­lion and 24 mil­lion Amer­i­cans do not have ac­cess to broad­band.

The plan, man­dated by last year’s stim­u­lus bill, lays out a road map for bring­ing high-speed con­nec­tions to all Amer­i­cans.

Two of its top rec­om­men­da­tions in­clude tap­ping the fed­eral fund that sub­si­dizes tele­phone ser­vice in poor and ru­ral com­mu­ni­ties to pay for high-speed In­ter­net con­nec­tions and un­leash­ing more spec­trum for wire­less In­ter­net ser­vices, par­tic­u­larly in ru­ral ar­eas where it does not make eco­nomic sense for phone and cable com­pa­nies to build lan­d­line net­works.

Rick Kaplan, chief coun­sel to FCC Chair­man Julius Ge­na­chowski, said the find­ings of the FCC’s lat­est broad­band re­port un­der­score the need to push ahead with those two pro­pos- als. He added that the agency is not seek­ing to im­pose heavy-handed new rules — such as line-shar­ing re­quire­ments — on the phone and cable com­pa­nies that pro­vide most In­ter­net con­nec­tions in the U.S.

Still, word of the up­com­ing FCC re­port raised con­cerns among telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions com­pa­nies, which fear it could lead to more reg­u­la­tion. The in­dus­try has mounted an in­tense lob­by­ing cam­paign to de­rail a pro­posal by Ge­na­chowski to de­fine broad­band ac­cess as a telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions ser­vice sub­ject to “com­mon car­rier” obli­ga­tions to treat all traf­fic equally. The pro­posal is a re­sponse to a re­cent fed­eral ap­peals court rul­ing that cast doubt on the agency’s author­ity over broad­band un­der its ex­ist­ing reg­u­la­tory frame­work.

UST­ele­com, which rep­re­sents the big phone com­pa­nies, said in a state­ment Mon­day that the FCC’s lat­est anal­y­sis “strains credulity” since the na­tional broad­band plan found that the num­ber of Amer­i­cans with broad­band at home grew to nearly 200 mil­lion last year from 8 mil­lion in 2000.

Kaplan said that though the in­dus­try is do­ing a good job of ex­pand­ing broad­band, it is not reach­ing all Amer­i­cans. Stressing that the FCC is re­quired by Congress to ex­am­ine the state of the U.S. broad­band mar­ket, he added that there is no way for the agency to con­clude that ev­ery Amer­i­can cur­rently has ac­cess.

The FCC has changed the way it tracks broad­band in its lat­est re­port. The agency lifted the speed re­quire­ment for a ser­vice to qual­ify as broad­band to at least four megabits down­stream — far faster than its pre­vi­ous 200kilo­bit stan­dard. It also mea­sured broad­band avail­abil­ity in far smaller geo­graphic ar­eas. The agency had been widely crit­i­cized for track­ing broad­band avail­abil­ity only by ZIP code and count­ing an en­tire ZIP code as served even if only one house­hold could get ac­cess.

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