Commentary

Berkman Center Stands By Broadband Proposals

Of all the suggestions for improving broadband access, the boldest -- and most controversial -- is the proposal that cable companies and telecoms should be required to share their lines.

In October, Harvard's Berkman Center said in a report to the Federal Communications Commission that broadband services are better in countries with open-access policies than in the U.S. Not surprisingly, telecoms and cable companies -- who currently have a duopoly over broadband services in much of the country -- take issue with the report.

The U.S. Telecom Association, for instance, challenged the center's analysis as well as its methodology. In a 19-page critique, the group said the Berkman Center incorrectly attributed other countries' success with broadband to open access policies "while ignoring more important factors, including facilities-based competition, direct government support, large private investment, and non-policy factors such as geography and demographics."

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This week, the Berkman Center struck back with an new paper stating that it has examined 57 different studies and still disagrees with critics of open access principles. "The present unstated consensus in US telecommunications policy circles that open access is a theory in disrepute is without foundation in evidence," the paper concludes.

The Berkman Center isn't alone in suggesting line-sharing. Advocacy groups like Free Press and Public Knowledge also advocate such policies. "Imagine if a bunch of companies could get access to the cable company's wires at a wholesale rate and use it to offer consumers broadband internet. These companies would compete with each other, giving consumers real choice in broadband service," Public Knowledge said in its policy blog.

For now, however, the FCC doesn't appear ready to move in that direction. The agency's recent interim report, issued last week, disappointed some advocates because it didn't include recommendations to require networks to share lines with competing broadband providers.

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