Group seeks faster broadband push

Authors of a new report that states that the United States is dramatically falling behind the rest of the world in broadband deployment want Congress to enact laws allowing public and private entities to accelerate high-speed Internet deployment.

The report specifically blames the Federal Communications Commission for ignoring the problem that has sustained the digital divide and widened the gap between the haves and have-nots in broadband access.

“The United States lacks a national broadband policy,” according to the report released last week by the Free Press, Consumers Union and the Consumer Federation of America.

“The FCC and Congress never have seriously addressed the lack of competition in the broadband market; they have not moved to reallocate spectrum to promote new technologies and lower prices; and they have blithely applauded the incumbent industries that have kept the market narrow and the digital divide wide," the report states.

The report states that FCC officials use misleading and low standards for measuring broadband connections and service, and overstate penetration rates and competitive conditions in the marketplace.

Broadband costs are also high in the United States, the report states. Consumers pay 10 to 25 times more per megabit than broadband users in Japan, while speeds here have only minimally increased, the report states.

For example, if at least one broadband subscriber is listed in a ZIP code, then the FCC counts the code as being covered by broadband without any consideration to price, speed or availability of connections across the ZIP code, the report states.

Internationally, the United States’ ranking in broadband penetration dropped from 13th to 16th place, with 11.4 connections per 100 inhabitants, the report states, citing statistics from the International Telecommunication Union. South Korea tops the list, followed by mostly European countries and some Asian ones, according to the report.

The report refutes any assertion that there is competition among broadband platforms. Specifically, it states that satellite and wireless broadband are losing market share to cable and DSL providers, who control almost 98 percent of the residential and small-business market.

According to the report, the FCC is trying to eliminate open-access policies -- in which incumbent telecom service providers must make their networks available for competitors’ use -- that have loosened the cable industry’s dominance in the market.

Many municipalities have recently undertaken or are considering deploying wireless networks by themselves or through a public/private partnership to improve economic development, provide affordable high-speed service and improve government services.

Industry is trying to quash local governments from undertaking such projects that would offer their residents affordable high-speed Internet service. At least two federal bills ban municipalities from competing with the private sector. Critics have said that local governments should step in only when the market has failed. Otherwise it is not a good use of taxpayer money.

However, some experts said that private-sector partnerships in such initiatives could work better than local governments trying to do it themselves. Last week, a consortium of high-tech companies announced an initiative to accelerate the deployment of various wireless networks in 13 cities. That number could grow to 100 in a year or so.

The report’s authors urge Congress to enact legislation to free the “duopoly domination” of cable and DSL providers.

“Congress should authorize any entity, public or private, that seeks to offer broadband services to American consumers, open up more spectrum for wireless broadband and ensure open access to all high-speed communications networks,” according to the report. “Advances such as these will promote a strong American economy, one able to effectively compete in the global marketplace.”

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