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Broadband Infrastructure Policy for the 21st Century

March 10th, 2010 by Thomas Koutsky - Senior Advisor, Omnibus Broadband Initiative

The broadband networks of the 21st century frequently depend upon the policies that government has for infrastructure that is decidedly 20th century—wooden utility poles, conduits underneath bridges, and easements alongside America’s roads and highways.  Because government controls and regulates many of these infrastructure inputs, there is a tremendous opportunity for enlightened public policy to spur and accelerate broadband deployment.  The draft Plan makes several recommendations that build upon successful efforts undertaken by state and local governments with regard to these important assets.

First, the Plan recommends a comprehensive approach for resetting government policy toward new network construction, which often depends upon access to government rights-of-way, buildings and facilities.

The Plan recommends that the federal government improve the process for locating broadband facilities on federal buildings and property.  The Plan also recommends that all federally-funded infrastructure projects, like bridges and roads, consider broadband build-out opportunities, such as laying conduit or joint trenching, as part of the project.

State and local governments have led the way on many of these infrastructure policies.  For example, in Western Massachusetts, 55 miles of fiber optic cable, with 34 local interconnection points, are now being laid because the Massachusetts Department of Transportation, the Massachusetts Broadband Institute, and the U.S. Department of Transportation made it a point to plan for general broadband deployment when upgrading the traffic management system on that stretch of highway.

The Plan recognizes that there are a myriad of ways in which state and local governments set the fee rights-of-way access, and the Plan will not recommend any specific method or change as to how state and local governments set those fees today.  The Plan instead recommends that the FCC convene an intergovernmental task force of federal, state and local rights-of-way experts that will have the charge of cataloging these different fee structures, identifying rights-of-way policies and fees that are consistent and inconsistent with the goal of broadband deployment, and recommending guidelines and construction and maintenance practices that reduce cost and avoid unnecessary delays and inefficiencies.  We believe that there are tremendous opportunities for costs savings in the industry and hope that by discussing these issues in an open, collaborative forum will expedite deployment of broadband infrastructure.

Second, the Plan makes a number of recommendations designed to maximize utilization of existing infrastructure assets, such as poles and conduits that are controlled by private utilities.  Today, the FCC has the responsibility to ensure that utilities that control access to these infrastructure facilities offer them up to telecommunications and cable providers on just and reasonable rates, terms and conditions.  But the process can be slow and costly, and get bogged down in disputes that linger for months if not years.  These disputes go both ways—in addition to the needs of communication companies for timely and efficient access, electric utilities have legitimate concerns about safety that need to be addressed and enforced.  The Plan recommends several changes to the FCC’s pole attachment regulations that are designed to speed the process, facilitate the exchange of information between pole owners and attachers, lower costs, and resolve disputes efficiently.

It’s often easy to forget that the broadband—both fixed and wireless—and indeed the entire Information Economy ultimately rides over physical wires that need to be tacked onto poles, buried alongside roads, and carried over rivers and across mountains.  Broadband infrastructure is as real as bridges, tunnels and highways, and there are tremendous opportunities for affirmative changes in government policy that can really make a difference in the deployment of broadband deeper into America’s communities

22 Responses to “Broadband Infrastructure Policy for the 21st Century”

  1. HarryBoy says:

    Why no consideration for subsides to wireless providers such as Towerstream and Hughesnet (almost broadband at times)?

  2. Jim Thale says:

    I would love to see fiber to the home and would pay premium price for 1Gigabit (unfiltered) service. The two providers in my area are stuck at about 10 Megabits. Wireless is abysmal and I believe fraught with peril as it is both a shared media and subject to 'sniffing'.

  3. EpcotPhil says:

    I shudder to think of the government having broadband centers in government buildings! People! Are you awake? And who decides what we can see / hear / surf? There's a reason TV and Radio are not government owned. Don't let this 'initiative' take over another perfectly functioning private network.

  4. Yale says:

    My test showed
    6008 KBPS Download
    420 Upload
    50 Lateny
    3 Jitter

    What does this mean? Is it good or bad for Bell South?

  5. Watcher says:

    It makes me wonder what strings are attached whenever the government is involved. The governments of the world are attempting to take over the internet with regulations, taxes, and controls. Is this a backdoor approach to control?
    Will the government be entering competition with private business?
    Gotta watch 'em !

  6. Guest says:

    I'm with Phil government control scares me, should scare you too

  7. Guest says:

    I'm with Phil government contol no way

  8. Guest says:

    I'm with Phil no government control.

  9. Only Stephentown on Earth says:

    To HarryBoy: The same remote locations that now must use Hughesnet have wires going to them first created by the government commitment to universal rural electrification and phone service. Yes yes to making the same commitment to broadband internet by wire, not subsidies for the stopgap satellite that should be used only in places so remote they are off the electric grid.

  10. Guest says:

    6mb downstream and 400kb upstream is typical for a dsl connection but lousy when compared to the 50 to 100mb speeds in many asian countries. Even dsl in australia runs upwards of 24mb. The broadband your isp is providing isn't sufficient for 21st century internet. We should be at 250mb or higher in this country at the same price you're paying for that supposed 10mb. Even satellite and wimax ought to be running at higher speeds. We are being taken by large telecoms and cable providers for their inadequate infrastructure upgrades over the years along with government roadblocks that add to this dismal situation we call broadband in america. Think about it. If there were proper broadband speeds your television connection could be through dozens of providers online at full video speeds and full HD with literally thousands of program stations all in highdef. And yet why would your cable provider want to give you 250mb speeds if it means losing your cable tv revenue. As for dsl technology the telecom carriers sat on their laurels until voip drew all their long distance revenues away before finally attempting subpar dsl speeds. Face it until the cable and telecoms are forced to open and upgrade to FTTH we aren't going to have true broadband in america. Jmho

  11. Guest says:

    i am currently living in europe and the best broadband I can buy is under 2 Mbit with 200kb upload speeds. They advertise it as 6Mbit and 600kb. I had a better connection back in 2002. Europe beats us only on advertised speed not actual speeds. I'm not saying what they are doing might not be good, just that the information driving it is total BS.

  12. Tom says:

    The "perfectly functioning private network" that EpcotPhil refers to is actually largely physically routed through structures and easements that are already government owned or controlled, as stated in the very first sentence of the article.

    The main thrust of the article seems to be that the appropriate governmental entities could work together to better and more cost effectively do what they already are doing. Think of the low-tech example when the city roads department repaves the road, but since they didn't talk to the sewer district, the roads get torn up the next year to install the new sewer line. The article basically says that if the different agencies and other entities just thought ahead regarding future broadband needs -- like most already do regarding traffic capacity for roads -- that efficiencies can be increased.

    Fact is, almost every system of significant size in this country (in the world!) survives through government support and/or subsidy. All forms of land transport are directly supported by government-constructed roads, all air transport are directly supported by government-run airports. Busses? Roads. Trains? Amtrak.

    I wish there was an example of a large-scale "perfectly functioning private network" but there just isn't.

    Having said all that, I do agree that we always need to be vigilant of initiatives that take away privacy and freedom. Recall the old "encryption key escrow" idea, in which any time someone used an encryption key to encrypt data, they would legally have to register the key with a government agency. Unbelievably bad policy -- not to mention almost completely unenforceable -- but it was being pushed by the Clinton administration at one point. Thank God that didn't pass-- can you imagine?

  13. Fretz says:

    This type of broadband test only shows your burst speed not sustained speed. My internet provider here in Southern Massachusetts, Comcast Cable Internet, offers tiered pricing, where they advertise 12 mbps (about 1.5 KB/s). They cap the sustained speed at this rate but provide a burst speed for short downloads or buffering video streams. Since this site only downloads and uploads for a few seconds, you only see the burst speed. My results (rounded):

    33,000 mbps Download
    2700 mbps Upload
    22 Latency
    3 Jitter

    A better test of your download speed is to download a fairly large file from a trusted website with good upload bandwidth and observe the speed reported from your browser. Try a service pack from Microsoft's website (I just downloaded Office 2007 Service Pack 2 to test from http://support.microsoft.com/) and it reported a sustained speed that averaged my 1.5 KB/s.

  14. Fretz says:

    Correction 12k mbps is my advertised and sustained speed.

  15. MAINEiac-a man from Maine says:

    Telcom Act of 1996 handcuffs and prevents Incumbant Local Exchange Carrier companies (the people who own the infrastucture) from investing in expensive true broadband networks. Broadband is the future of any communications company. ILEC's are providers of service and by law have to wholesale their facilities to competitors under the guise of voice. I believe these rules have been clouded and now unfairly extend to broadband which allow a competitor to provide broadband services under voice rules. The competitor uses leased facilities to provide the exact services with No overhead and No regulation . In my opinion this creates a 'Cherry Picking" atmosphere.

    What fool company would make major investments in a network for a "competitor"? A network a competitor can use at wholesale rates to directly compete back with the ILEC that built it... BUT only compete in only the high profit areas the "competitor chooses. The ILEC has been conditioned to build for today, not tommorrow.... which I think sets this country back in broadband investment...

    By the regulations in effect today a "competitor" can move in and Cherry Pick high revenue areas of any state using the ILEC's facilities to stimulate "competition". Very seldom do they run their own cable... Never to the rural areas that cannot make money. BY law the ILEC has to provide the "Last Mile" to the last home, reguardless of associated costs... This is not true competition...

    Revenues made by the ILEC in high profit areas keep them healthy, stable and able to support the infrastructure that supports Universal Services to rural America, utility poles, central offices, conduit runs, cable on the pole, etc and broadband buildout to the most rural parts of any state. Areas that cost money to serve, not make money...

    It is obvious that "competitors" only want to compete where the real money is made in densly populated areas ie: cities, towns, college campuses etc. not the one's and two's along a back rural road.

    Federal stimulus money should be spent building the "Last Mile"to RURAL America so the people who do not have broadband could. The "Last Mile" is the facility that gets broadband out to the home. BUT, 25 million in stimulus money has been awarded to a START UP company in Maine that is duplicating and "Cherry Picking" high revenue areas of the"Middle Mile" the largest ILEC already has.

    Simple analogy ... if your state has an interstate that can handle 1 million cars an hour but, the off ramps can handle 1 an hour.... Do you build another interstate beside the one you already have?

    If the current ILEC regulations continue and cause regulated ILEC's to fail who will support the infrastructure everyone want's and needs ....

    Regulate all broadband providers with incentives to build their own facilities, provide the same levels of service/standards and force them all serve 100% of the state... stop the "Cherry Picking". An even set of regulations can create TRUE competition...

  16. Max says:

    What is wrong with using a couple of polar satellites? Defective un-imaginative archaic techniques is sloppy thinking to create difficulties, unreliability and lots of corporate profit.

  17. Max says:

    A couple of polar satellites would do the trick for the U.S.A.
    Using archaic existing hardware method is defective sloppy thinking.
    Creates difficulties, unreliabilities and big corporate profits.

  18. Guest says:

    Any satellite system is going to have huge latency problems because of the distances involved (geo-synchronous satellites are 22000 miles above the earth!). They will only serve as a stop-gap measure for very remote areas.

  19. Guest says:

    Remember, when broadcast over the airways is taken over by broadband, someone will have a record of everything that you watch. It's Big Brother to the max.

  20. Cube says:

    I happy to see the FCC step up and improve ISP speeds.

    I used to have a solid connection with my ISP but as of late it seems my Speeds and connection quality strarted to suck.

    The ISP just don’t seem to care since they are the only broadband out here really and they Don’t seem to care if or when they upgrade to new equipment or if you are getting the speed you pay.

    They just give a run around if you call them and say your speeds are good, there is no problem with your connection blah.

    I used to be able to stay connected to my isp for like weeks at time now the ISp service/line just seems to die every day at least once randomly for like 15 minutes and seeds are slower.

    They also charge way to much.

    I hope the FCC puts some pressure on them to improve connection quality the USA needs it.

  21. SaveCompetition says:

    To Maine-iac:

    You forget who paid for your Bell company over more than 100 years. My parents and grandparents. Everyone's parents and grandparents. We subsidized "the phoen company" and Bell squandered our dolalrs on fat cat CEOs like Ed Whitacre and execs like Tom Tauke. Recall it was Ed who took millions in bonuses and set up a $30 million plus naming rights on a sports stadium the same time he wiped out thousands of jobs at SBC. And what did Ma Bell do all those 100 years? DSL technology was available and tested 50 years before the Internet. Bell knew and knows today NOTHING about innovation. The Telecom Act of 1996 was a wake-up call to the Bells and they spent millions fighting to keep their monopolistic practices all the way. Only after 1996 did we get rapid data deployment, only after Bell was forced to allow competitors into its networks. As an investor the last place I will ever put my dollars in in Qwest, Verizon or AT&T. Only through regional and rural LECs, non-Bell-manipulated wireless companies and cable will we get to 100 mbps download speeds. Hopefully today's release will include breaking up the Bells to force them to open their networks to competition to allow low cost broadband to finally be where it should be in Main Street America and all connections north, south, east and west.

  22. MAINEiac-a man from Maine says:

    Response to SaveCompetition:

    Save....

    1.) Sure, if you, your parents or grandparents had a phone and you all paid your bill .... Yes the funds went to your local phone company as they should. If that is what you consider subsidizing the "Bell" company I disagree....

    I am however familiar with the rate of return (ROI) on investment theory..... In my state if the "Bell" company invested money in the network they were allowed to earn a regulated rate of return on their investment. The return on investment (ROI) was only allowed on monies they accounted for with regulatoy boards and directly invested in the network.....No money invested No money returned therefore No profit...

    Sure once the monies were earned they could be spent any way the "Bell" company decided. Just like we spend the moneies we earn.... If SBC wanted a sports stadium and the board of directors wanted to pay the CEO large bonuses... thats what they got. Not our decision to make... I am not sure what the CEO of my company wanted....mabe it was the Verizon Wireless Ampitheater or the Verizon Areana in Little Rock Ark, Houston TX or Manchester NH just to name a few or mabe it was the Ivan Sidenburg Shool of Computer Science at Pace University in New york, or.... It really should not matter what they did or do with the money they rightfully earn. Again No investment... No return..... No profit....

    2.) If you know the industry the early 1.5 Mb digital circuit also known as T-carrier was deployed in the 1960's and 1970's. The 1.5 TXC was some of the first digital technology to be deployed in the industry. Sorry I dont know where you come up with DSL (Digital Subscriber Line) being around for 50 years before the internet??? DSL is an internet access technology...maybe it was because Al Gore had not yet invented the internet???

    I know DSL technology has been deployed in the industry since the early 1980's for internet access. But since you mention INTERNET that is exactly what I am talking about. Rural America needs to have the "Last Mile" (the mile that delivers service to the home) developed to provide greater broadband penitration and access to the INTERNET.

    Like it or not the divestiture of the original AT&T in 1984 created the current Incumbant Local Exchange Carriers (ILEC) (plus or minus a few mergers). They own the largest part of the American communications network and are considered the providers of last resort for the most rural customer. The Telcom Act of 1996 sets current law and requires ILEC's to wholesale out their network portions, pieces or the whole thing to any ABC phone company that wants to provide voice service.

    How can any company survive with a business model that allows anyone at anytime to have as much of the product they want at wholesale rates?

    The cable companies you speak of do not provide service beyond a profitable ROI model. The ILEC by current law has to provide last mile service to the very last home regardless of associated cost. Why not regulate all carriers to provide service to the most rural customer sharing the expensive burden and create robust competition for all end users.... not just the city dwellers where the real money is made.

    I ask you where is the competition we all desire when companies are allowed to Cherry Pick on another company.... whether it be the cable company only providing service to the densely populated money making areas or a company that uses another companies assets to make money without the overhead?


    3.) A 100Mb connection to all homes in America would be the ultimate dream. Reliable 100Mb service today is on secure fiber optic facilities. If every home in America has a 100Mb or more connection who will provide the "Middle Mile" backbone to haul the traffic out to the world? The ILEC that does'nt exsit anymore because the government opened their network to any and all for free play and killed them? There are unintended consequences to what may on the surface seem like a good thing...

    My opinion this plan will work in the cities on Main Street but, will fail miserably in the already underserved rural parts of our country. This plan will strip the ILEC carrier of last resort of necessary revenues they use to support rural America. Eventually it will not be feasible to build or maintain such networks and they will get out of the business... Just like Verizon is doing today.... What then Government run Telco??? If there is No money in it, why would anybody do it??? Hold all providers of broadband service (not just the "Old Bells") to the same regulations and the same levels of service for all...

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