The Future of Broadband Internet

Most consumers believe the United States is a world leader when it comes to broadband Internet. This simply isn’t the case, and many countries are moving ahead of the U.S even now. The current advancements in American broadband are driven by the private sector, and although not leading the charge globally America isn’t dragging last. Currently over two hundred million consumers have access to broadband Internet in the United States up from eight million in 2000. That’s an incredible advance in a short time, but to remain competitive globally the U.S. needs more.

Like the push towards rural electrification in 1936, there are ways the government can get involved and help expand broadband without adversely affecting the market or wasting exorbitant amounts of money. The aforementioned initiative used easy to get federal loans to help the private sector grow out the non-existent electrical grid. Considering many of the companies involved in 1936 are still in business, and all of America has access to electricity, the program was a success.

The FCC Gets Involved

In 2009 the FCC was tasked by Congress to grow the broadband market, and was given specific areas to address. The new U.S. broadband initiative was to maximize:

Private sector investment
Educational use
Public safety
Health care value
Job creation
Jog training
Energy independence
Consumer welfare
Clearly this is no small affair. What began as a concern over anti-trust and dwindling spectrum became a huge undertaking that involved some of the most important facets of society. It should be no surprise that an undertaking of this magnitude is taking a while to get right. And it needs to be stated that incredibly fast nationwide broadband is useless without the availability of devices to use the Internet. So now the FCC must consider how to make the service and the hardware affordable. This is getting tricky.

Many would argue that given the current growth of the broadband Internet market the government shouldn’t get involved. There is some value to this line of thought; however there is a lot of good that could be done as well. Billions of dollars could be saved in healthcare alone with better data management. Include in this an improved education system at a lower price and increased energy independence via a broadband controlled Smart Grid and it becomes a little clearer that the government needs to be involved. All of the above issues would require that certain laws and standards be changed before significant improvement could be made. And if these few issues could actually be tackled the broadband project becomes a great deal more meaningful and important.

In the current initiative the FCC plans on getting involved in standards and law reform as well as policy changes.

Law Reform

The United States government is not only in a great position to help the broadband initiative along, it may be necessary. Public education, public safety, and the energy industry are all heavily regulated already so any significant advances in these areas would require some government involvement. Add to this the fact that the single largest healthcare payor in the country is the government it becomes clear that the areas of concern in this initiative are already under the prevue of the government.

In the health care area it is believed that hundreds of billions of dollars can be saved annually in the IT area alone. The laws changed by the broadband initiative will focus on:

Guaranteeing affordable broadband access to healthcare providers
Improving e-care regulations
Creating new e-care incentives and reimbursements
Improving the use and capture of patient data
Giving more control to patients
The laws and standards surrounding public education are outdated and very restrictive in some cases. The FCC plans to lead the charge in helping to update many of the regulations surrounding public education to allow for growth in the e-learning area. Currently on the agenda is improving connectivity in schools by upgrading the existing E-Rate program, promotion of more digital learning content, and updating regulations that currently restrict online education.

When this initiative was in its earliest stages American voters thought it was about running more cable or increasing the number of internet providers in a given area. Now that the full scope is becoming clearer this could take some time.

Policy Changes

Although anti-trust laws are not in violation it is clear to most consumers that they don’t have a lot of choices when it comes to service. As an example click here on High Speed Internet Providers. Follow the link and click on the button that says “Internet Providers in my Area” to find service you have access too. More likely than not you will find one cable provider, a couple of satellite providers you would never want to use, and a DSL provider with speeds that can’t possible compete with the cable company. In a rare case there will be fiber optics in your area, and even then there will be only one company providing it. These are not great choices.

The new plan will change current policies to encourage increased competition in the following:

Content
Applications
Devices
Network Services
Add to this a chance to allow more than one cable provider in an area and increased fiber optic deployment and we might be on the right track. The rules of competition are being looked at for revision in both mobile and fixed networks.

A new policy is in development that would require additional and accurate performance information disclosures to consumers. It is believed that increased transparency would increase competition market wide thus lowering prices and improving service.

Additional policy changes:

Increased privacy protection
Increased set-top competitiveness
Additional unlicensed spectrum
More efficient use of public resources
The U.S. broadband initiative has gone from a discussion on spectrum to a piece of legislation that will touch on many important aspects of society. While it is unlikely the entire scope of the plan will be achieved at the levels hoped for by Congress, if they hit half their marks the U.S. will be in a better place technologically. How long the job will take is anyone’s guess.