Commentary

FCC Calls Out U.S. Broadband Lack Again -- N.C. Passes Law That Won't Help

The Federal Communications Commission has just issued a report concluding, for the second straight year, that broadband isn't being deployed in a reasonable or timely manner.

The FCC's conclusion rests on several data points, but two in particular stand out. First, up to 26 million Americans, mainly in rural areas, lack access to high-speed Web service. Secondly, up to 100 million Americans aren't purchasing broadband subscriptions -- in many cases because people aren't willing to pay the high costs of monthly subscriptions.

One way of addressing both problems is for towns to build their own fiber-to-the-home networks. Doing so obviously makes broadband physically available; additionally, cities that have built networks have been able to offer residents service at relatively fast speeds and low prices.

Not surprisingly, cable companies and telecoms aren't thrilled by the new local networks and the competition they bring. In some cases they have gone to court to oppose such networks -- as happened when the Minnesota town of Monticello decided to build its own fiber-to-the-home network. (The case reached the Minnesota Court of Appeals, which okayed the project.)

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Incumbent providers have also pushed lawmakers for new laws curbing cities' ability to create their own networks. In North Carolina, the lobbying was successful. The state just passed a measure that will make it significantly more difficult for towns to build their own networks.

Ironically, just as the FCC was issuing its report late last week, North Carolina Governor Bev Perdue allowed that bill to become enacted. Although Perdue issued a statement criticizing the new law, she also declined to either sign the measure or veto it. With her inaction, the bill became law.

The FCC has urged Congress to make clear that localities shouldn't be prevented from building their own networks. Congress, so far, hasn't taken the FCC up on its suggestion to side with small towns against big telecom and cable companies.

1 comment about "FCC Calls Out U.S. Broadband Lack Again -- N.C. Passes Law That Won't Help".
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  1. Susan Breidenbach from Broadbrook Associates, May 26, 2011 at 2:53 p.m.

    One important factor people generally leave out when comparing U.S. broadband penetration to that of other developed countries is economies of scale. The U.S. has an extremely low population density compared to that of other developed countries. This hugely increases the per-capita cost of building out communications and utilities infrastructures, especially in rural and exurb areas. This is a reality that can't be regulated away, and any proposed strategies and solutions must address it directly, up front. Thank you for your consideration of my comment.

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