Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Boradband Plan a Pipe Dream?

The response to the National Broadband Plan has been muted nationwide, at least in part because it was released at the climax of the health care debate. The response has been even more muted, if possible in Lafayette...after all, we've got ours Jack...real 3 way competition even if AT&T is an also-ran. (Caveat: Economists say a 3-way is not enough. The fact that we've got a public option will help immensely.)

But for most of the country the plan would be uninspiring in any context, mainly in that it has failed to grapple with the underlying problem of competition. The plan as currently constructed simply accepts the current nation-wide wireline duopoly. The pretense that wireless competition is large enough and that it is separate enough from wireline to generate genuine competition is just foolish. (I have two friends who've worked, in differing capacities, on the plan. Both have expressed deep disappointment. One bitterly.)

The Economist does a great job of summarizing the painful reality of the American situation:

Almost uniquely among OECD countries, America has adopted no policies to require the owners of broadband cables to open their infrastructure to rival sellers in order to enhance competition. America relies almost exclusively on “facilities competition”, the provision of rival infrastructures: a cable provider may compete, for example, with a network that runs optical fibre to the home. True, there is a legitimate worry that forcing a company to rent out parts of its infrastructure to competitors may deter investment, but a review of international broadband policies prepared for the FCC by Harvard’s Berkman Centre for Internet & Society revealed a range of successful compromises in use in other countries. The FCC has availed itself of none of them, and suggests that wireless broadband could instead provide more competition. But wireless data transfer is very much slower and less reliable than fixed broadband; it is more a complement than a competitor.

If America’s facilities-based system were really working, the country would at the very least enjoy first-rate broadband in dense urban areas where providers are most likely to recoup their investments quickly. Yet in February the Saïd Business School at Oxford and the Universidad de Oviedo released a study, funded by Cisco, that produced a broadband quality score based on bit volume and speed, mapped against current and probable future applications. Chicago, America’s best-performing city, ranked 26th, below Sofia and Bucharest.
Lafayette is lucky not to have to rely on the "beginners" sort of broadband plan that has been generated so far. It's yet another instance of it being demonstrably wiser to do for yourself.

That's not to say that there is nothing positive to be said about the plan....most importantly it's a plan worth criticizing. Up till this moment the US has had NO plan. We are admitting that not having a plan is a problem. And, as we all now recognize, admitting that there is a problem is the first step in solving it.

That said there are parts of the plan that, if implemented, could have a real effect on communities like Lafayette. More on that as time allows....

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