White House Lines Up Broadband Playbook
If Gigabit Cities are a sign that individual community efforts can bring about significant broadband change, then the new Broadband Opportunity Council report presented to US President Barack Obama is a sign of the government's determination to take regional broadband successes and turn them into a template for the rest of America.
The report, which was just released to the public, is the result of a Presidential Memorandum issued by President Obama last March. In his memo, Obama tasked the newly formed Broadband Opportunity Council with providing recommendations on how "to identify and assess regulatory barriers and opportunities" related to the goal of expanding broadband deployment and adoption. He gave the Council 150 days to deliver its report, which had to include a prioritized list of recommended actions and a timeline for completing them.
The full report is now available online, but, in summary, the Council recommended that the government: modernize federal programs to include funding support options for broadband initiatives; use its federal agencies to develop tools for communities investing in broadband improvements; expand access to federal assets that could support further broadband development; and upgrade broadband research and data collection.
Throughout the report, certain themes are repeated frequently -- notably that there needs to be better sharing of information among US local, state and national governments, and that practices and policies that prove successful in one place should be replicated wherever possible.
For example, one recommendation suggests a one-stop government portal for broadband development resources including best practices and technical assistance for local governments and anchor institutions. Another calls for a community connectivity index promoting successful regional broadband programs and offering tools for assessing one's own community and creating a broadband improvement plan.
The report also specifically spotlights the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the Mozilla Foundation to create "Living Labs" in several gigabit communities with the goal of creating the equivalent of a "smart city app store" that any community can use. (See White House Funding Seeds Smart Cities.)
Over and over in its report, the Broadband Opportunity Council returns to this idea of centralizing resources and creating a repository of solutions that communities can learn from and build on. In many ways, it's similar to what Google Fiber Inc. has already done in the private sector, but writ large.
Google is learning from early deployments and taking that knowledge to new cities to work with them and determine how to make them good candidates for fiber expansion. The company has argued that even in cities where it does not deploy its own gigabit service, the communities are left better off because of the preparatory work done that can still be useful for any future broadband plans. (See Gigabites: A Gigabit Battle in Tennessee.)
The federal government has an even bigger opportunity to promote this network effect. With effective coordination among agencies, it has the potential to multiply the impact of virtually any regionalized broadband innovations and make the lessons learned for attracting funding, leveraging assets and overcoming challenges available to all.
— Mari Silbey, Senior Editor, Cable/Video, Light Reading