Friday, November 20, 2009

Do we need a national broadband plan?

Universal broadband access is a major technology goal of President Obama. As part of Congress’ agreement to include broadband grants and loans in its stimulus bill, it mandated the FCC to figure out what else it would take to hook up every home to the Web.

A Federal Communications Commission task force has begun to outline hurdles to universal access. FCC broadband planners have identified three of many hurdles:

1. There is not enough spectrum for mobile broadband.

2. A federal fund for phone service needs to be restructured to include broadband.

3. Consumers should be told the truth about the Internet access speeds they pay for.

The debate essentially boils down to one question: Should the FCC mandate “net neutrality” and regulate Internet fair play?

Some say the answer is yes. They cite service providers who can intentionally disrupt Internet traffic—selling fast service to favored sites and slowing or blocking others. Regulation would mean that a service provider could not favor certain forms of data traffic over others. "Net neutrality" advocates say that's wrong. They cite free speech and commerce.

In a recent story, the Washington Post summarized some of the challenges:

One hurdle for users is a lack of transparency by providers, he said. Internet network operators such as Verizon, Comcast, and AT&T will have to be a lot more transparent about the services, prices, and speeds they offer. And consumers should be able to get a clear sense of the options they have among those and other telecom, cable and satellite broadband providers before signing up for a service.

Still, critics insist that the government has no business meddling in the Internet market. They argue that rules would be a dangerous overreaction to a phenomenon that doesn't exist and that such regulations would stifle investment.

The economic stimulus package gives the FCC has until Feb. 17, 2010 to deliver its plan to Congress. Also included in that package is $7.2 billion for broadband grants. The FCC has teamed up with the Agriculture Department to solicit comments about the development of a separate rural broadband plan.

On the issue of technology, President Obama said, "To help build a new foundation for the 21st century, we need to reform our government so that it is more efficient, more transparent, and more creative."

To learn more about the White House's technology initiative, click here.


Sarah and Joe said...

Lack of transparency about services, prices, and speeds offered; no clear sense of options offered by telecom, cable and satellite broadband providers
...sounds like the monopolistic days prior to breakup of the Bell System. The more we change the more we stay the same. We need net neutrality and a national broadband policy as the first step to clearing up this provider controlled mess. At least let the FCC establish a policy that providers must follow and citizens can understand. If the policy is sound and simple, citizens will help enforce it.

Deb S. said...

Sarah and Joe: Sounds like a plan that could help close the digital divide. Thanks so much for stopping by.