Posted by: Hank Hultquist on July 30, 2010 at 10:25 am
When I first heard that the FCC’s 6th 706 report would find, for the first time, that broadband in the U.S. was not being deployed in a reasonable and timely manner, I wondered, half in jest, whether the FCC would single itself out for blame as the culprit responsible for this unfortunate situation. To my amazement, the FCC came fairly close to doing just that.
Paragraph 28 of the report tells the tale – somewhere between 14 million and 24 million Americans lack access to broadband (defined in the report as a minimum of 4 Mbps/1 Mbps); these folks are disproportionately lower-income Americans and residents of rural areas; and, finally, private investment is not going to solve this problem because (citing the National Broadband Plan) there is no business case to offer broadband service in these areas. The report went on to say that “market forces alone are unlikely to ensure that the unserved minority of Americans will be able to obtain the benefits of broadband anytime in the near future.”
What is the significance of this? Well, in conceding that no reasonable business plan would deliver broadband on a timely basis to these areas, the FCC has basically admitted that this report’s finding reflects a failure of public policy and not, as some have erroneously claimed, a defect in competitive conditions in the broadband marketplace.
So, where can this public policy failure be found? Mostly in the failed universal service programs described in my recent blog series on USF. Section 254 of the Telecom Act directs the FCC (and state regulators) to base universal service policies on a series of principles, including that “consumers in all regions of the Nation, including low-income consumers and those in rural, insular, and high cost areas, should have access to telecommunications and information services, including interexchange services and advanced telecommunications and information services, that are reasonably comparable to those services provided in urban areas.”