TCS Daily

Broadband Visions

By Duane D. Freese - January 16, 2002 12:00 AM

Washington often gets caught up in the mire of legislative infighting between special interest groups.

This week, TechNet - an organization made up of more than 300 chief executives and senior partners of infotech, biotech, venture capital, investment banks and the law -- attempted to present a higher vision on broadband deployment.

Its task force, with executives from IBM, Cisco, Microsoft, 3Com, Intel and Genuity, reported Wednesday that high-speed connections to the Internet have "the potential to transform the way we live, learn, work and play."

To fulfill that potential, the report called on President Bush and other policymakers to set a goal of making "affordable 100 megabits per second broadband connection available to 100 million American homes and small businesses by 2010."

A hundred megabits per second? Current, dial up speeds are for 58 kilobits per second. Most high-speed lines being sold offer no more than 10Mbps speeds. So, what the TechNet people are saying is that policymakers need to look beyond current broadband to broadband capable of 10 times the fastest speeds most people can now get.

Why 100 Mb per second? Because, the report notes, that's the speed "at which the Web's true potential can be achieved, by enabling faster surfing to streaming of high-quality audio and video, as well as faster upload and graphic images and large files." In short, you could really get the movie you want at any time in no time, rather than waiting for half hour downloads; for video conferencing and other visual communications, people would look natural rather than like a bunch of jerks.

Instantaneous delivery over such high speed broadband would end forever the World Wide Wait.

But how do we get there? ``The biggest thing government can do is to establish this goal,'' said Rick White, chief executive of TechNet. ``After that, it needs to create an environment where investment and innovation can really thrive.''

Thus, the tech execs didn't call for any specific legislation, and, in fact, refused to back the always contentious Tauzin-Dingell bill that would essentially free the remaining four regional Bell local telephone monopolies of their obligations to open their loops to competition.

Instead, the tech execs set out six principles:
  1. Government policies should foster innovation and reduce regulations -- especially with respect to broadband applications and services;

  2. Public policy should encourage new investment in broadband infrastructure and networks through competition and the removal of regulatory uncertainty and disincentives;

  3. State and localities should promote streamlined laws and regulations that encourage broadband investment, and interstate consistency should be achieved whenever possible;

  4. National spectrum policy should utilize market-based approaches that reduce the artificial scarcity of spectrum for valuable broadband applications;

  5. Investment incentives, potentially including targeted tax incentives, should encourage broadband deployment to underserved communities and businesses; and

  6. Broadband policy should encourage innovation and government should not pick technology winners and losers.

The second principal has the most relevance to the current debate over Tauzin-Dingell. And to fulfill the principle, the task force recommended the government do three things:

The FCC should refrain from imposing unbundling rules on cable operators; encourage facilities based competition by requiring that all government telecommunications requirement be met by multiple providers, and the FCC should use its existing authority to remove regulation where it creates significant disincentives to investment in new, last-mile broadband deployment.

As is evident from the roll out of broadband by Verizon and Bell South, the current rules established by the FCC that require Bell operating companies to share their local lines with competitors before entering any kind of long distance service are no disincentive for broadband deployment. Indeed, they may be the key to keeping such deployment affordable.

The report should lift the eyes of government officials above the current legislative fray to the bigger issue of how to bring about the broadband transformation that the high-tech executives envision. Doing that will require a balanced legislative approach that gives no provider a lock on the market, but frees the market so that multiple providers of high speed services compete to bring the fastest service at the lowest price.

The principles enunciated by TechNet deserve full consideration and careful reading by everyone.

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