Federal Communications Commission

Mind the Gap

November 17th, 2009 by Blair Levin - Executive Director, Omnibus Broadband Initiative

“Mind the gap” is a phrase long associated with the subway system in London, known as the Tube or Underground. But it works equally well for the current phase of development in the National Broadband Plan.  In the Tube, the warning is robotically voiced in stations where the gap – the space – between the subway platform and car is wide enough for a passenger to fall through, or when the train and platform are at different heights.  At the FCC’s monthly meeting Wednesday, the members of the Broadband Task Force will also  voice warnings about gaps -- gaps in broadband deployment, adoption and usage that are big enough for a consumer to fall through.  Or, more broadly, gaps in universal access to robust broadband, the goal that Congress asked the plan to address.
So we will be minding the gap. But we aren’t getting on the train yet.  Gap analysis is part two of what is essentially a three-part process.
The first was gathering data, accomplished in a series of staff workshops, field hearings, public notices, blog comments on, and scores of meetings.  That process continues, including a major consumer survey on broadband adoption which is underway.
The second phase is gap analysis, the point we have now reached.  At Wednesday’s meeting, we’ll look at what kind of broadband the U.S. will have in the near-term without a change in government policy, and where the status quo results in demonstrable public interest harms.  We’ll look at the places where there’s a gap between the goal of universal, robust, affordable broadband and current reality.
The final phase is closing the gap – finding solutions to the broadband problems that keep individual households and the nation’s economy as whole from enjoying the benefits of universal broadband.  We will begin identifying a policy framework for solutions in December.  In January, we’ll outline the opportunities for broadband to drive improvements in national priorities like education, energy independence, homeland security, and others. Finally, February, the FCC will vote on the plan, which is due to Congress, by law, on Feb. 17, 2010.  The Commission has every intention of meeting that deadline.
So does the subway analogy stay on track for the final phase of the plan?  One reason there’s a gap to mind in the London Underground is that some stations were built on a curve in the tracks, leaving a scary gap between the curved platform and straight subway car.  Completely fixing that and other accessibility problems in the Tube may never be possible.  While fundamental reform is needed in some of our broadband policies, it’s not clear that realigning a 150-year-old subway system and building a better broadband future are comparable tasks.  But this much is clear – we don’t want to have voices in our society warning us to “mind the gap” every time a young person in a poor neighborhood needs to go online to do homework, or when a business in rural America needs to go online to compete in the global marketplace, or when we are looking for the economic growth that universal broadband can bring.  
We want to more than mind the gap: we want to bridge it.  

3 Responses to “Mind the Gap”

  1. Travis says:

    Well your off to a great start...

    "Finally, February, the FCC will vote on the plan, which is due to Congress, by law, on Feb. 17, 2009. The Commission has every intention of meeting that deadline."

    Looks like you missed that deadline... Joking obviously a typo right? I belive it should be Feb. 17, 2010.

    The only true way you are going to close the "gap" is to work with the broadband providers that currently have infrastructure in place. You wonder why the first round of bidding for the 7.2 billion stimilus came in at 28 billion. It's because buisness will need to start from scratch having to build there own infrastructure where current infastructure exisits. Now, well I agree competition is great and often brings down the cost of service to the consumer... We will not get the best bang for our buck if you don't work with providers currently that have infrastructure in place. Providers should have to service the entire area not just pick and choose what they deem to be profitable. If Time Warner, Verizon, AT&T, and Comcast, could obtain funding with no strings attached other than showing that the money that they are taking is strickly being used to build out infrastructure to unserved areas, then this will close the "gaps" you discuss. How many studies/research must be done??? I mean seriously. All the money being spent to map where broadband currently is versus where it isn't versus where it will be.... etc... Here's a swell idea send a survey in the snail mail. Have a box to check yes or no as to whether you can currently obtain broadband services. Better idea, make grants available to the public. I would apply for the $10,000 Time Warner quoted me to run less than a 1/4 mile of cable on poles that already exist in a town they have a franchise agreement in!!! As I have said before Hughesnet and Wildblue.. and other satellite internet providers are NOT broadband providers. They are simply access to the internet via a satellite that throttle speeds to dial up.

  2. Brett Glass says:

    In some issues treated by the Broadband Plan, "Mind the gap" is an apt phrase. But in others, it might well be "Mind the gulf." There are some huge impediments -- most of them completely artificial and directly addressable by the Commission and/or Congress -- to better, ubiquitous, affordable broadband.

    For example, the gulf between small, local ISPs, such as myself, and obtaining even a small amount of uncluttered radio spectrum on which to operate, is huge. There's an auction process that's designed, effectively, to play "keep-away" -- keeping spectrum from anyone but huge providers. Likewise, the gulf between rural cities such as Laramie, where I operate, and the Internet backbone is not only wide but being exploited by the incumbents -- via excessive "special access" rates -- to drive up our costs and prevent us from providing the sort of service we'd love to provide.

    And finally, there's the vast gulf between the world inside the Beltway -- with its slick, well paid lobbyists and political intrique -- and the real world. DC is a world of veiled motives, of gamesmanship, of political horse trading, while out here in the real world we simply need to get things done and get them done right -- no excuses. This is perhaps the most dangerous gulf of all.

    For example, when I see lobbyists from Google (or for "public interest" groups controlled by or receiving substantial contributions from it) lobbying the FCC, claiming that what's best for Google is best for the country ("Hamstring ISPs with crippling 'network neutrality regulation, but don't regulate us!"), I'd love to speak out and point out that the Emperor has no clothes. "This is the way it really is! It's indisputable! Come look!"

    But I have work to do, and a full time business to run, and cannot be there more than occasionally. (Nor do I have time to draft as many formal comments as I would like.) Neither can most of my colleagues, despite the fact that I daily urge them to participate. And so, there's a real danger that the large interests who make big political contributions, and can afford to send highly paid representatives to Court, will get the King's ear.

    This is the yawning gap which we must mind most of all.

  3. Guest says:

    Why couldn't the government implement a broadband network like they do roads - provide local governments with funding to maintain their roads, lay down the interstate highways, and let people decide where they want to drive.
    I'm not happy Verizon won a big chunk of the 700MHz auction, and I'm also not pleased with where an initially great idea is headed with this national broadband plan.
    It's becoming more and more like an oligarchy... if not a single monarchy playing multiple sides.
    The only way we can really make the internet and broadband "neutral" is to let the computers we each own do the navigating and quit with the ISP garbage all together. And no, I do NOT mean that the government should be the ISP - I mean there should be no ISP.
    Think Plug-n-Play. You plug in and you're off. No set up, no monthly subscription, no gateway websites forcing you where to go when you open your browser, none of it. It's feasible, and probably cheaper for EVERYONE, corporate, federal, local, and end-user. Pay for the wire or the wireless device and go from there. We don't want the internet to be jacked up like the phone services - a handful of companies offering roughly the same stuff, but tweaking it ever so slightly so they can charge you different rates and you never really get everything you want.
    If the government keeps this crap up, you can imagine there's going to be a technocratic revolution to take the internet BACK into the citizens' control

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