TelcoTV 2010: Should the Feds Fund Entertainment?
But, even as broadband access starts to play a key role with the USF, more thought needs to be applied to the types of services and apps, including video, that will come out of those efforts to help recoup network costs.
However, when it comes to other projects, such as the National Broadband Plan, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is still relatively focused on bits and bytes, and not necessarily looking to extract entertainment value out of the effort, said Michael Romano, senior VP of policy at the NTCA - The Rural Broadband Association .
But perhaps it should be. "Part of that speed is, frankly, Netflix and over-the-top entertainment," said Catherine Moyer, director of legal and regulatory affairs for Kansas-based Pioneer Communications. "You have to start making those arguments," she added, noting that those speeds are also there to help drive other much more important apps such as distance learning.
Although the FCC is inquiring about how Internet-capable video gateways can help drive broadband adoption in its National Broadband Plan, much of the focus of that effort has also been tied to defining current broadband speeds and what speeds and reach should be targeted by 2020. (See FCC: Broadband Starts at 4 Mbit/s , FCC Chair Sets 2020 Broadband Vision , FCC Floats 'Simple' Gateway, CableCARD Rules , and Will Reclassification Derail FCC's Broadband Plan?)
But even the FCC's current definition for broadband (4 Mbit/s downstream by 1 Mbit/s upstream) may already be out of date when customers layer in video. Pioneer, Moyer said, already supports more than 4/1, "because consumers come to expect it."
"Video," she added later, "absolutely drives [broadband] adoption."
Still, adding video into the federal funding equation can be tricky. In addition to the access network, there's also some fogginess on how other required pieces, including set-tops and in-home wiring, should or shouldn't factor in. There's a "misconception" as to which parts should fall into that funding pool, and which ones should stay out of it, explained Ronald Dibelka, manager of technical planning for the National Exchange Carrier Association (NECA).
But the bottom line, he said, is that the market has changed dramatically since the early days of the Universal Service Fund. "The access system is not what it was 25 to 30 years ago," Dibelka said. The inter-carrier piece is going away to make room for backhaul and broadband. Today's USF "is not a packet-based accounting system. The [current] rules aren't really made for that stuff."
As for the FCC's National Broadband Plan, opinions varied on when it would be finalized, with Moyer predicting that some of the proposals will likely slip to early 2011, to be followed by lengthy comment and ex parte cycles.
"It's a huge plan," she said. "It's easily going to be pushed."
Dibelka was the least optimistic, seeing it finalized in three to five years. Romano thinks 2012 is likely the earliest time for it to reach the finish line.
— Jeff Baumgartner, Site Editor, Light Reading Cable