Open Access Enters FCC Dialogue

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) could soon consider an open-access policy that would require carriers to share broadband infrastructure with other service providers, according to a Wall Street Journal report today.

Notice all the qualifiers in there. The FCC hasn't set a date to even start talking about the idea and probably won't issue recommendations until February, along with its national broadband plan, the Journal noted.

But open access for broadband is one of the proposals the FCC is considering, as the U.S. government looks for ways to spread broadband to more households more quickly.

(Another proposal being considered is to increase the fees that go into the Universal Service Fund, which spends $7 billion per year on rural connectivity but hasn't gotten involved in broadband deployment.)

The idea of open access got recharged last month in a Harvard University study commissioned by the FCC. That study, released by the Berkman Center for Internet & Society, said that open-access rules, when applied in other countries, have led to better Internet access. Naturally, the National Cable & Telecommunications Association (NCTA) has blasted the Berkman Center's findings.

As for what the FCC actually did today: The commission released task-force findings of "critical gaps" in United States policy that prevent the country from getting all it can out of broadband technology.

The Universal Service Fund's lack of broadband work is one such gap, as is a potential shortfall of wireless spectrum as smartphones start to take over the market, the task force reported.

On the consumer side, the task force noted an information gap -- meaning many consumers can't tell what kind of broadband speed they're actually getting, nor can they easily compare that to what they might get from a competing service. The study also pointed to the lack of a retail market for set-top boxes, saying the lack of choice there is stifling innovation.

The commission also issued a request for comments on how to best elevate the United States out of the broadband doldrums. Comments are due Dec. 8. But YOUR comments are welcome on the message boards below.

— Craig Matsumoto, West Coast Editor, Light Reading

thomas.eklund 12/5/2012 | 3:52:01 PM
re: Open Access Enters FCC Dialogue The dialog on open access is very welcome, and I think we can expect the FCC initiative to be the starting point for a long debate on how to drive innovation and competition with a regulatory framework which protects the consumers from being locked into access monopolies. This is a balancing act between the service providerGÇÖs interest to secure a reasonable ROI, and the consumerGÇÖs freedom of choice. In the European Union, this debate has been intense for several years, and to me it looks like the US has some catching up to do.
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