FCC’s Gigabit Challenge – A Missed Opportunity 4 Years Too Late

On Friday, January 18, FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski issued his Gigabit Challenge – calling for at least one gigabit testbed community in all 50 states by 2015.    It should be noted that this is simply a verbal challenge – not based on any type of regulatory policy or driven by any type of broadband stimulus funding.  The FCC did state that it would  actively engage with broadband providers and community leaders to help achieve this goal with plans to create a new online clearinghouse of best practices to collect and disseminate information about how to lower the costs and increase the speed of broadband deployment nationwide.

When I read this announcement, my first reaction was why didn’t the FCC do this as part of broadband stimulus?  It seemed like the perfect opportunity to fund projects that could demonstrate the value of ultra-high speed networks.

In fact, Google as part of its reply comments to the FCC Notice of Inquiry “In the Matter of A National Broadband Plan for Our Future”, GN Docket No. 09-51 (Apr. 8, 2009),  made the following recommendation:

“As one example, the Commission should select several U.S. communities as test beds for installing a minimum of 1 Gbps fiber connection to every residential household. By creating these test beds now, the agency can learn valuable lessons about the various technological and market challenges associated with such private sector deployments. These learnings in particular can foster greater understanding about where to place the appropriate dividing line between private sector and public sector support for build-outs of broadband plant. The test beds also can pave the way to establish loftier benchmarks for future fiber build-outs.”

This was nearly 4 years ago.  Imagine what could have been.

Google was on the right track with its recommendation that the FCC should consider investing in test beds.  The Department of Energy, as part of its Recovery Act funding, set aside $600M in grants for Smart Grid Demonstration projects.

The goals of the demonstration projects was to verify smart grid technology viability, quantify smart grid costs and benefits, and validate new smart grid business models, at a scale that can be readily adapted and replicated around the country. Additional, the demonstration projects would serve as models for other entities to readily adapt and replicate across the country and will serve a diverse cross section of regions, in order to be duplicated across the whole of the nation.

Again, imagine what could have been.

Regulatory Roadblocks

Another potential roadblock to this challenge is regulatory.  As it stands, we have 19 states, in which assorted state laws prevent smaller communities – namely municipalities and/or local governments from offering telecommunication services or severely limiting their ability to do so.

Map

While Chairmen Genachowski likes to highlight Chattanooga, Bristol and Lafayette, Louisiana as progressive markets – he failed to acknowledge the difficulties and challenges these markets faced from the incumbent operators – who tried everything to stop these networks.  Not to mention the changes in state legislature that have been put in place in some of markets to make sure no other entity does the same.  Does UTOPIA ring a bell?

Fix this issue alone and you will likely see more communities choose to build out their own networks – and gigabit networks at that.

Undoubtedly there are many communities that crave better broadband infrastructure – given the 1,100 that applied to become a Google Fiber test bed – but what made Google Fiber so attractive was the fact that someone else was footing the bill.

In reality, even without regulatory roadblocks,  many of these municipalities simply cannot afford to build out there own infrastructure  – not even as a test bed.

And while I agree with his statement  that “the US needs a critical mass of gigabit communities nationwide so that innovators can develop next-generation applications and services that will drive economic growth and global competitiveness.”  My concern is that these gigabit communities will be the same ones already enjoying advanced broadband services, leaving smaller markets further behind.

If the FCC really wants to issue a challenge – then I would like to see loftier goals – such as 50,000 1Gbps subscribers per state by 20xx and I would like to see the FCC continue to help the smaller communities become a part of this challenge.

Perhaps the FCC should take some of that unused Broadband Stimulus Funding and put together a program that lets communities bid for the opportunity to become a  Gigabit test bed and hopefully these communities will have picked up a few tips from Google on how to generate demand to guarantee success.

#broadband #regulatory

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