After over six hours of workshops on topics related to adoption and usage today, I have reams of notes, a number of next steps, and a long list of great ideas. I will be back soon to tell you more about what I think we learned today, and how it gets us closer to our goal in February. Thanks to all who participated and brought such energy, passion and insight to the workshops.
Archive for August 2009
FCC NATIONAL BROADBAND PLAN WORKSHOP THURSDAY, AUGUST 13, 2009On Thursday we had a very interesting workshop on the role of wireless technology in offering fixed and mobile broadband access. The workshop was divided into two panels. The first panel discussed the status of mobile wireless and the second addressed the opportunities and challenges of serving rural users. Everyone agreed that there is a continuing growth in demand for data services and a number of solutions are being worked on by the providers to try to meet expected demands. Several wireless carriers and their providers are focusing on building out current 3G networks with HSPA technologies with plans to evolve to LTE technologies. Others are moving rapidly to deploy WiMax for fixed and mobile applications. To try to maximize frequency reuse and increase capacity, the providers are also deploying smaller cell sites (eg. micro- pico- and femto- cells are being used more commonly). However, this also requires higher capacity back haul connections. All the panelists agreed that the back-haul ("middle mile") problem needs to be addressed. The availability of fiber connections to such sites limits how quickly the networks will evolve. The service providers in rural areas face the additional issues with getting cost-effective back-haul connections. It is necessary to develop innovative technological and regulatory solutions to address this critical issue. One other fundamental issue is that of obtaining more usable spectrum to address anticipated bandwidth demands. However, panelists varied in their requests and proposals and no one identified specific spectrum requirements. The carriers operating using licensed spectrum recommend international harmonization of spectrum to help drive the cost of equipment down. Several rural providers that have developed innovative solutions using limited spectrum seek Commission involvement in getting access to more spectrum via secondary markets. The operators offering services using unlicensed spectrum are recommending special recognition of their needs in the rules by creating better "light" licensing regimes and expanding the license-light concept to additional frequency bands. For the longer term, some of the panelists presented ideas for opportunistic use of spectrum by using dynamic spectrum access techniques or learning from open access technology projects. This also raised the possibility of networks based on streamlined and flexible designs of base stations (using software defined radios); device to device communications protocols and open access for devices to roam across multiple networks. The panelists also challenged the Commission to investigate developing flexible technical rules which allow continuing technology innovation. Fixed Broadband Workshop The recently concluded Fixed Broadband Workshop brought together researchers, technology developers and business planners to discuss the current status of non-mobile or fixed broadband and its future potential. The workshop was organized in two panel sessions. One discussed Broadband Vision and the other Fixed Broadband Technologies. Perhaps the most challenging consensus presented by the Broadband Vision panelists was that our need for broadband will continue to grow far beyond today's performance capabilities. This was responded to by panelists from the Broadband Technologies session who indicated that for cable, fiber and DSL technologies, evolution strategies were in play to meet this challenge supporting bit rates an order of magnitude higher or more than at present. Another challenging view presented was that utilization of broadband infrastructure should be maximized to ensure participation by the greatest number of innovators and that, to the fullest extent possible, the network should be transparent to the applications it supports. As noted by one researcher, such transparency would further development of applications and lower barriers to use by individuals. He also noted that as the nation becomes more dependent upon a broadband infrastructure, other factors such as reliability, security, etc. will need to be included in an evolving definition of broadband. Towards this point, it was noted that research is advancing on new network constructs such as cloud computing and network virtualization. Such constructs may permit the implementation of new network services and features far more easily than implementing them in the underlying broadband infrastructure and avoiding the upgrade issues associated with legacy infrastructure. So-called "middle mile" costs were cited by one panelist as a significant impediment to broadband in rural areas and suggested that the Commission seek to address this issue. He also noted that nearly half of the estimated seven million unserved homes in the US are already accessible by cable systems and that stimulus funds directed towards these small cable operators would be a very cost-effective solution. In all, panelists presented an environment where technology can meet evolving broadband goals, but policy issues affecting the openness of the network, its capabilities and its ability to serve all the peoples of the nation will need to be addressed to realize broadband's full potential.
Last week, the Omnibus Broadband Initiative held a series of 7 panels addressing issues fundamental to bringing broadband to every American - the technologies that can supply broadband, and how they can and should be deployed. Our team was thrilled to be able to glean wisdom from world-class experts like Columbia University's Henning Schulzrinne and Sanford Bernstein's Craig Moffett on a wide variety of issues that will impact the ultimate shape of the plan. In addition, the insightful questions we received from citizens from across the country were a testament to both the importance of getting the plan right and to the remarkable power of broadband itself, since many of them were delivered via the Internet.From my perspective, several messages rang out loud and clear. First, panelist after panelist reminded us that getting the broadband plan will not only be a matter of plugging bitrates and marginal costs into a formula to yield a number, but also considering the challenge holistically and attempting to capture the entire economic impact of broadband. Second, whether your family or small business has "broadband" is not simply a matter of the peak speeds you can attain over your connection, if you currently have one; rather, it incorporates a host of other considerations, like latency and reliability, that impact the performance of applications like VoIP and collaborative office software. And finally, many of our experts on wireless technology emphasized the importance of spectrum to our national wireless future - both improving the efficiency of existing spectrum and exploring making spectrum available in frequencies currently occupied by other technologies. Technological efficiency could help free bandwidth for broadband in other pipelines to the home, including coaxial cable, where the conversion to digital cable television could free bandwidth now used for analog cable TV. As the clock ticks down to the National Broadband Plan, our whole team looks forward to gathering many of your ideas (and your data!) regarding how we can ensure the deployment of a network that meets the needs of all Americans and will enable even more innovative uses of broadband in our shared future. As the billboards say, "watch this space" - there'll be much more to come. -Rob Deployment Director
One of the many challenges of creating a National Broadband Plan is dinner: it's hard to get it when you're working late into the evening to meet Congress's Feb. 17, 2010 deadline to reboot broadband deployment and usage in the U.S. So maybe there was some kind of karmic reward in two fortune cookies that staff cracked open at the end of our team's break for Chinese one night.John Horrigan, a data guy we stole from the Pew Internet Project, pulled out a fortune that read "Statistics are no substitute for judgment." Steve Rosenberg, a former McKinsey analyst who is helping on modeling and mapping, opened one that said "No problem can stand the assault of sustained thinking." Both fortunes-unusual topics in my many years of opening such cookies--bode well, I think, for the National Broadband Plan. It's true that gathering data will be key to developing a solid plan, and we're doing that as we hold weeks of staff workshops, solicit new comments on targeted subjects, and then in the fall, travel to field hearings. Plus, there's the new local broadband data that came pouring into the FCC this spring, which we are scrubbing, slicing and dicing and soon hope to have at our fingertips. But data means nothing if we don't exercise good judgment about what it all means. I'm confident we have assembled a great team who can cut to the chase and develop options and recommendations that are likely to produce what Congress wanted: universal, robust broadband for all Americans and a broadband platform that will enable innovators, entrepreneurs, businesses, non-profits and all levels of governments to find new solutions to our nation's problems. And I'm confident that the FCC, Congress, and others in government will exercise good judgment when they determine how to implement those recommendations. But that will require sustained thinking, and our broadband team is leading an assault of sustained thinking by the entire FCC on the stubborn problem of bringing broadband to unserved and underserved areas, increasing the number of Americans using broadband, and maximizing how broadband can be used to help address significant national issues. Expect the unexpected. Nothing is pre-baked but the fortune cookies.
The National Broadband Plan is one of the most important initiatives that the FCC has ever undertaken. To foster public dialogue about the National Broadband Plan, we're tapping the power of the Internet to launch a new FCC blog, called Blogband. What better time to start blogging than now? With just 183 days before our deadline to send the National Broadband Plan to Congress, we need as many people involved as possible.Like our unprecedented two-dozen public workshops and the upcoming fall public hearings, Blogband is part of the FCC's commitment to an open and participatory process. Blogband will keep people up-to-date about the work the FCC is doing and the progress we're making. But we want it to be a two-way conversation. The feedback, ideas, and discussions generated on this blog will be critical in developing the best possible National Broadband Plan. As this blog demonstrates, the Internet is changing and expanding the way Americans communicate, providing them with unparalleled access to information. Our goal is to create a National Broadband Plan that charts a path toward bringing the benefits of robust broadband to all Americans. So visit Blogband often to keep up with the latest news and - more importantly - get involved.