Laying the Groundwork for US Broadband Policy

Back in October, the U.S. federal government took an important, but perhaps little-noticed, step toward laying the groundwork for a national broadband policy, after years of clumsily plodding along on this critical issue. President Bush signed into law Senate bill 1492, the Broadband Data Improvement Act. This new law calls upon the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to regularly collect data on the deployment and adoption of broadband services, encourages state efforts to promote broadband, and voices support for public-private partnerships to foster broadband growth for residents and small businesses.

The Broadband Data Improvement Act and its "broadband mapping" component should provide valuable information to assist the incoming Obama administration in developing a comprehensive strategy to promote universal broadband access for all Americans. It goes a step beyond the FCC's own Report and Order from June 2008, which was designed to improve the precision and the utility of the data it collects on broadband services.

For starters, the new broadband law requires the FCC to undertake the sobering task of benchmarking America's broadband ranking compared to other countries. The FCC has a mandate to gather information on broadband service availability, transmission speeds, pricing, competition, regulatory environment, and technology options for 75 communities in at least 25 countries and analyze this data relative to the demographic profiles of various U.S. communities.

In addition, the law requires the FCC to conduct periodic surveys of consumers in urban, suburban, and rural markets in order to gather a host of data points that can help strengthen broadband policymaking. Survey questions will cover, among other things, the types of broadband access technologies used by subscribers, monthly pricing, actual data transmission speeds, and the applications and services most frequently used by consumers. The FCC is supposed to publish survey results at least once per year.

With the possibility of Washington taking the value of broadband connectivity more seriously, it would not hurt for telecom industry leaders to come up with some new initiatives of their own to influence the policy debate. Communications industry leaders could better position themselves for this debate by increasingly emphasizing that their networks carry the digital fuel necessary to drive productivity gains in today's information-based economy and by sharing success stories on how communities are leveraging broadband connectivity to improve quality of life and economic competitiveness.

— Stan Hubbard, Senior Analyst, Heavy Reading

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