McAdams On: An Alternative Route to National Broadband
8/5/2010 1:22:38 AM
There are ways to take broadband nationwide
without a hammer. The less aggressive approach could also make it available
faster to more unserved communities than the current National Broadband Plan.
The 2009 Congressional directive to the Federal Communications Commission was
to “ensure every American has access to broadband capability.” That’s
achievable without reassigning massive swaths of radio-frequency spectrum, as
the Plan now proposes.
First off, areas that lack broadband service have been identified. There are
1,024 counties or “county equivalents” lacking broadband, according to the
FCC’s Sixth Broadband Deployment Report. They comprise 24 million people in 8.9
million households that are generally poorer and more rural than the national
average. The same areas very likely were outliers as the nation adopted
electricity. Lights are on in Custer County, Nebraska tonight because of the
Rural Electrification Act.
U.S. farmsteads were still dark coming out of World War II, while Europe’s
countryside was incandescent. Private utilities here balked at running lines
into the country. Small-town residents were charged more than city folk. Rather
than competing with private enterprise, the REA created a loan guarantee
program for community cooperatives. Within a decade, rural electrification went
from 10 percent of homes to 90 percent.
The odds are minimal that 90 percent of the 1,024 unserved areas will have broadband in 10
years under the current plan. It proposes to free 500 MHz of spectrum in that
period of time. There’s a concomitant goal of getting 100 Mbps service to 100
million homes. That will leave roughly 30 million to go. Guess which ones...
The only way those unserved areas will have reliable broadband service within a
decade is through community-based initiatives. These could be funded through
the current $7.2 billion rural broadband grant program, which now appears to be
supporting upgrades and metropolitan projects. Instead of relieving every U.S.
television market of 20 channels up front, the FCC should focus on organizing
community-based projects that
The models are Claudeville, Va., population 900; and the much larger city of
Wilmington, N.C. Both launched broadband networks using broadcast TV white
spaces. The two communities are test beds, but well on their way to homegrown
broadband provision. Another 21 municipalities and state governments are
working on an interoperable public-safety network that might also serve as a
Deploying broadband one municipality at a time may not provide nationwide
access on one set of frequencies, but network search technologies are extant.
If the true intention of the National Broadband Plan is to “ensure every
American has access to broadband capability,” it should focus first on unserved
areas, and not a battle with broadcasting.