Monday, September 28, 2009

FCC's Broadband Task Force Delivers Initial Assessment

With 141 days remaining before the FCC must deliver a National Broadband Plan to Congress, the task force issued a preliminary report on the state of broadband in the United States.

The FCC's forthcoming plan, which was mandated by The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, will address broadband deployment, adoption, affordability, and the use of broadband to advance solutions to national priorities, including health care, education, energy, public safety, job creation, investment, and others. The plan will provide concrete recommendations on how to successfully deliver on the infrastructure challenge of our time: provision and adoption of universal broadband.

This initial report provides data to the five FCC commissioners for developing the plan. Key findings includes:

The Framework: Congress required the Commission to craft a strategy for delivery of universal, affordable, widely adopted broadband to serve vital national purposes. The report states that subsidy mechanisms must be considered as a means to universal adoption, but current mechanisms, such as Universal Service and stimulus grants, are insufficient to achieve national purposes. The FCC might also help reduce costs with new policies on spectrum, rights of way, backhaul, and fiber.

Applications: The report finds that applications require different broadband speeds, with the most demanding being high-definition streamed video. But actual broadband speeds lag advertised speeds by as much as 50% to 80%. Peak usage hours, typically 7 p.m. to 10 p.m., create network congestion and speed degradation. About 1% of users drive 20% of traffic, while 20% of users drive up to 80% of traffic. A constrained network dictates investment needs in infrastructure.

Deployment: Preliminary analysis indicates that approximately three to six million people are unserved by basic broadband (speeds of 768 Kbps or less). The number of unserved increases as the definition of minimum broadband speed increases.

The incremental cost to universal availability varies significantly depending on the speed of service, with preliminary estimates showing that the total investment required ranging from $20 billion for 768 Mbps-3Mbps service to $350 billion for 100 Mbps or faster.

The cost of providing consumers with a choice of infrastructure providers, and/or ensuring that all consumers have access to both fixed and mobile broadband would be significantly higher than these initial estimates. The cost to provide service in rural areas is significantly higher than in urban areas, and is driven not only by higher capital expenditures, but also significantly higher recurring operating expenses largely driven by transport and transit. Universal Service Fund recipients have made progress bringing broadband to rural America, but the fund faces systemic and structural problems.

Adoption: Nearly 2/3 of Americans have adopted broadband at home, while 33% have access but have not adopted it, and another 4% say they have no access where they live. But large segments of the population have much lower penetration rates, and adoption levels vary across demographic groups. The cost of digital exclusion is large and growing for non-adopters, as resources for employment, education, news, healthcare and shopping for goods and services increasingly move on line.

Spectrum: Bandwidth-hungry devices, applications and users are buffeting existing network capacity and driving many to cite the need for additional spectrum. Some models suggest a need for more than 1 GHz of total allocated spectrum. The task force is actively assessing the long-term spectrum needs of the country for mobile broadband services, but after decades of new allocations, concedes that the spectrum pipeline is drying up.

International Broadband Plans: The driving force behind national broadband plans in other nations has been competitiveness, job creation and innovation. Successful plans need four or more years of continuous effort and consistent funding sources.

National Purposes: Broadband can be part of the solution to many of the nation's challenges, creating economic and social benefits.

The FCC noted that it has received nearly 41,000 pages of written comments so far in response to its National Broadband Plan Notice of Inquiry.

See also