Levin outlines broadband deployment formula over next decade

Blair Levin, the FCC’s former broadband czar, has revealed a formula for deploying broadband to 97 percent of the country for $10 billion over the next decade.

That number is compared to the $32.4 billion cost of building out and operating broadband networks that the FCC estimated in a recent broadband deployment report.

The government has just finished allocating almost $7 billion in stimulus funds to promote deployment to unserved and underserved areas. However, Levin said that money is not sufficient to cover the entire nation.

Speaking at The Aspen Institute, where he is now a fellow, Levin, who exited the FCC last spring, said the FCC has concluded that there are about 7 million housing units (about 5 percent of the total) without access to a 4Mb/s downstream/4Mb/s upstream service.

Assuming 4Mb/s should be the threshold for government support of broadband, Levin said the FCC pegs the cost to reach all those homes with wired broadband at $32.4 billion, with a revenue projection of only $8.9 billion, leaving a $23.5 billion gap.

However, Levin said, about 250,000 homes (or .2 percent) account for $13.4 billion, which he would serve with satellite broadband because it is too expensive to wire them, leaving the government with $10 billion needed to reach all the rest.

Levin, whose National Broadband Plan included migrating Universal Service Funds to broadband support, said that $10 billion could come from repurposing existing USF funds.

He recommended reducing or freezing funds to existing carriers, funding only single carrier and only where there is no business case for deployment absent a subsidy. Levin said the FCC should create a broadband mobility fund, an issue slated for a vote at the next FCC meeting.

Levin’s proposals were by way of suggesting how to implement a Knight Commission recommendation that all Americans need access to high-speed broadband and its diverse sources of information. According to Knight, that includes mobile access and speeds capable of delivering high-definition video.