Tuesday, February 19, 2019
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The economic reality of varied broadband deployments is that communities with the fastest speeds are most likely to benefit from competition among providers, which further pushes prices down. Thus, we soon will have a divide in which certain dense and high-income communities will have multiple choices for affordable gigabit services, while less dense, lower-income communities may still be stuck with a DSL offering that is 100 times slower but similarly priced. In between the two extremes, there will be places with more or less gigabit offerings, with the gap in price and performance of the best and the worst markets greater than it is today, with many more communities believing they are either being charged too much or otherwise left behind. All signs point toward the gap between the services and value offered to the wealthiest and the poorest continuing to grow throughout the United States. So what can the public sector do to address the gaps?
- No government should impose build-out requirements on telecommunications companies. In today’s market, an obligation to build everywhere could result in building nowhere.
- Governments need to do better in collecting and analyzing data. While we consider how broadly market forces will drive next-generation deployments, governments should improve their mapping of broadband availability and pricing to more accurately define the geographic and demographic parameters of the digital divide and guide future actions.
- Federal, state, and local governments should send carriers clear signals about their goals. At some point, government forces are likely to respond to constituent concerns about being left behind and use public funds to subsidize unserved or underserved areas. Carriers do not want the government to do so where they believe a business case exists for pure private funding. The government should be clear now about how long it will wait, and the network performance it needs, before it will take action. This will give private enterprises incentives to clarify and accelerate deployment plans.
- Rural communities need a restructured program to provide more effective tools for addressing their broadband deficits.
- Policies should empower local governments, which are most likely to understand and care about the specific nature of the local digital divides, in both rural and metropolitan areas. They, far more than the FCC, know where the holes will be and will be accountable to local concerns. Further, local governments can deploy a number of appropriate incentives for companies to build more broadly.
[Blair Levin is a nonresident senior fellow with the Metropolitan Policy Program. He serves as the executive director of Gig.U: The Next Generation Network Innovation Project, an initiative of three dozen leading research university communities seeking to support educational and economic development by accelerating the deployment of next generation networks. He also serves as an advisor to a variety of non-profits with a mission of deploying or using broadband technology to advance social progress. Previously, he oversaw the development of a National Broadband Plan.]
At a House hearing on net neutrality, the claims of Joseph Franell — the general manager and CEO of Eastern Oregon Telecom (“EOT”) — stood out like a sore thumb. He said, “The application of Title II as part of Net Neutrality had a dramatic chilling effect on rural telecom in the Pacific Northwest and I suspect the same could be said about the rest of the country.” He also said that since the repeal of the 2015 Federal Communications Commission order, “investors have been much more willing . . . to invest in rural telecommunications,” asserting that his company “has been able to focus on continuing to provide exceptional telecommunications and is currently expanding into other markets that are underserved.” But the numbers on Eastern Oregon Telecom — and his own prior statements to the media — don’t match up with the far-fetched claims he made at the hearing.
When the FCC used Title II authority to ensure net neutrality in 2015, Eastern Oregon Telecom significantly expanded its broadband deployment. Despite its CEO’s claims of a chilling effect, his company’s deployment data suggests otherwise. In 2015 and 2016, EOT’s CEO repeatedly touted his company’s “model” rural-fiber investment program.
People actually need Title II and all of the protections it provides for internet users. Here’s why.
- Title II is the right law: Congress designed this part of the Communications Act for “telecommunications services,” which is the proper framework and definition for broadband from both a legal standpoint and an engineering standpoint.
- Real net neutrality means no loopholes: Under Title II, the Federal Communications Commission had the power to investigate suspicious new practices and gray areas in order to decide whether they presented threats to the open internet. Without giving the FCC the flexibility to evaluate the situation, make new rules and respond to changing circumstances, fake net neutrality bills amount to throwing one stone in a river and calling it a dam.
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