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FCC to encourage cable to move to digital to boost Internet speeds

The FCC wants to give broadband a boost by pushing cable operators to transition to fully digital operations, while increasing the commission's "proof-of-performance rules and basic signal leakage performance criteria."

Last week, the commission opened a proceeding to clear the way to greater broadband efficiency by transitioning cable's analog systems to all-digital technology. FCC chairman Julius Genachowski said the commission wants to update standards to expand the speed, capacity and availability of broadband.

The commission also will look at existing rules, "that may be outmoded, ineffective, insufficient or excessively burdensome" for operators, and modify, streamline, expand or repeal them.

Genachowski said operators have improved their broadband speeds over the past few years. Three years ago, he said, only 20 percent of cable subscribers had access to 100Mb/s speeds, while today that number exceeds 80 percent. But he said increased speeds are needed.

In the FCC's Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, the commission will, for the first time, apply digital interference standards that protect aeronautical communications and navigation channels from cable signal leakage, and will apply minimum performance standards for its signals to consumers.

"We've made real progress, but ongoing increases in broadband speed and capacity are essential to realizing the full potential of broadband," Genachowski said. "More robust networks will enable bandwidth-intensive applications like distance learning, remote healthcare and the growth of multibillion dollar industries like cloud computing, which in turn helps drive the growth of businesses large and small."

Commissioner Mignon Clyburn said no longer would cable providers who use digital signals to reach their customers have to seek waivers to the proof-of-performance rules or risk enforcement actions for non-compliance. "Digital cable providers will now have a standard of performance against which their signals can be measured, and the FCC will have the means to ensure that consumers are receiving a minimum level of service," she said.

"Similarly, we are seeking to set standards for digital cable signal leakage where formerly only analog standards existed. Improperly maintained coaxial cable systems can potentially interfere with aircraft communications, and prior to this item, there were no interference standards that applied to digital signals. Approval of this item will mean that we are closer to establishing a standard that will provide aeronautical communications the same level of protection from digital cable signal leakage as it currently has from analog cable signal leakage."