What is the National Broadband Plan for the USA?

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From the horse’s mouth

National Broadband Plan – broadband.gov

My comments

One of the main goals with the US National Broadband Plan was to make sure that an affordable broadband Internet service with a minimum headline speed of 100Mbps downstream / 50Mbps upstream passes at least 100 million households across that country.

The main limitation concerning this goal is that, at the moment, one third of the US population cannot benefit from broadband Internet. In my opinion, most of this would be in sparsely-populated rural areas.

Need for universal Internet service similar to what is required for the telephone

In the US, the universal landline telephone service (private phone with directories for all households, plus commonly-accessible public payphones) is provided by the local incumbent telephony service provider, with the costs paid for by a levy on all telephone services in that country.

Part of the plan would be to release money from Universal Service Fund which is funded by the aforementioned levy to fund a universal broadband service.

Need for highly-competitive service with barriers to entry taken down

Part of this same requirement also includes a highly-competitive service in all markets with any and all barriers to competition taken down. This is in a similar manner to what has happened with the local “dial-tone” phone service in the US and other countries where this same service can be provided by competing service providers.

Coverage improvements

The improvement to universal Internet service goals will also lead to coverage improvements. This may not be an issue with most of the USA because of the country being densely populated but will be of concern with places like Alaska. Of course, there are rural patches within the contiguous 48 stats where not many people are living and these will have to be serviced with proper broadband. This will be looked at with the improvements to the Universal Service Fund.

Similarly, this plan will also satisfy the desire to make sure that next-generation broadband service passes anchor institutions like schools, colleges, hospitals, libraries and the like. It also includes making sure that military bases have access to next-generation broadband.

Implementation

The issue of access to basic broadband Internet service by the poor is being dealt with. Here, the FCC are putting forward the idea of extending the scope of the Lifeline and Link-Up communications financial-assistance programs to include this level of Internet access.

It will also include opening up radio spectrum, most likely “digital dividend” TV spectrum, for use in providing wireless broadband service, especially to rural areas. This may also include competitive mobile wireless broadband in urban areas.

Another part of the program is to mandate cost-effective access to telecommunications infrastructure like telegraph poles, underground conduits, towers / building rooftops, land patches and the like. This includes a “dig-once” policy which allows multiple companies to use the same telegraph poles and underground conduits for their own wiring as well as commonly-known infrastructure details to facilitate efficient Internet-service rollout.

Net Neutrality

An issue that hasn’t been talked about in the Broadband Plan is the concept of Net Neutrality. This divisive issue concerns whether certain Internet services and applications have better throughput versus the idea of all Internet applications and services having equal access. It is also of importance whenever telephone and TV move to IP-based transmission and this concept would assure that competitive and complementary services can exist on the same pipe with proper quality of service. This subject also leads to:

Multi-Channel TV

The American populace has been disaffected by the way multi-channel TV, especially cable TV, has been handled by the service providers, which are mainly cable-TV monopolies like Comcast.

One main disaffection was that the set-top boxes are literally controlled by the multi-channel TV providers and customers cannot buy and install set-top boxes or similar devices from retail outlets. There have been attempts to achieve a customer-controlled level playing field for set-top-box supply such as the CableCARD system but the cable industry have frustrated these attempts with measures like requiring a cable-TV technician to visit the customer’s premises to supply the card.

Part of this plan is to require the supply of a broadcast-IP tuner gateway to be provided by the cable company and connected to the customer’s home network and these same customers connecting their own IP-based equipment to the same home network. Here, the main goal would be to provide a competitive program-navigation system for customers to benefit from.

Integration in US public life; and IT literacy

Another goal with the US National Broadband Program is to integrate the high-speed broadband service in to US public life such as providing access to “e-government” at all levels and integrating the service with public education for example.

The plan also includes IT awareness through the community, but as I have noticed, there will be people who will find technology hard to use and will need further assistance. This is exemplified by people who find operating consumer electronics very difficult and are likely to resist using devices like a set-top box beyond changing channels for example.

Summary

What this all leads to is that one of the cornerstones of the US National Broadband Plan is to liberate broadband Internet and multi-channel TV service in a similar way to what has happened to the US telephone service since the Carterfone Decision and the AT&T anti-trust investigation of the late 70s.

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