Earlier today the New America Foundation and GigaOm hosted a discussion Two Perspectives on the National Broadband Plan between Craig Settles, a broadband industry analyst, and Blair Levin, chief architect of the National Broadband Plan, on the plan’s merits. This follows an earlier exchange of views in GigaOm [Settles|Levin| Settles|Levin] in December. Moderators are Wall Street Journal’s Amy Schatz and GigaOM’s Stacey Higginbotham. A recording is available here or below. It runs 1h20m.
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Geoff Huston’s latest Internet Society ISP Column examines the Australian scenario where, in the recent election, the vying parties plumped down on either side of the wired vs wireless question. He concludes that, just like the election, there is no outright winner.
He notes the reality that while wireless IP service often actually costs less to provide, users are prepared to pay more for it, giving providers little incentive to invest in wire. But wireless bandwidth scalability is, ultimately, limited. What’s more its inherent unreliability is TCP hostile. However ubiquitous wireless service would be a lot cheaper to implement: $6B (AUS) vs $43B (AUS) for wired.
He then gets to the big question, which all countries including the USA are having to address, namely how much of the taxpayer’s money is worth expending, and to what effect:
Where should public funds be spent? On a comprehensive revamp of the wired access network, replacing the aged copper pair telephone network with a highly capable fibre optic network? Or on improving access in those areas where the copper pair network simply cannot support high speed access by public investment in wireless infrastructure?
In trying to answer this question, we return to a persistent theme in the area of public communications infrastructure. What’s the role of public capital investment and how is that balanced against the role of private capital investment? Is it possible for private investment to fulfill the entirety of a public agenda? Given that a capable, cost efficient and effective public communications infrastructure that encompasses an entire national constituency is seen as a core deliverable of any national communications policy regime, then how is this best achieved today?
To move back from generalities to the specifics of this broadband investment choice, is it realistic to expect that we have further decades of useful life from an already ageing copper pair infrastructure? As a consequence, should current public investment focus on current gaps in the national infrastructure, using a relatively cost effective approach of plugging these gaps using wireless infrastructure where the copper network is simply inadequate, and leave the remainder of the network in situ, as being adequate for the moment Or should we leave such wireless infrastructure investment to private enterprise, given that this technology is enjoying strong consumer attention and there is a continuing investment in wireless infrastructure by the industry actors. Instead, should a public investment program focus on a longer term national program of replacing the copper loop with a comprehensive fibre optic network? From such a longer term perspective perhaps the NBN is the better approach, as we need to concede that the level of investment required for a national very high speed access infrastructure in a fibre access network is probably well beyond the scope of private capital works investment. So far all that the industry has achieved in this space has been the rewiring of the CBDs in the major cities, while the upgrading of remainder of the network has been effectively ignored. It appears that this is, like many major infrastructure projects in the past, one that properly sits in the realm of a public investment program, in the same way that we’ve made investments in national road, rail and shipping infrastructure in the past.
NY Times Story Broadband Availability to Expand
WASHINGTON — The Obama administration is seeking to nearly double the wireless communications spectrum available for commercial use over the next 10 years, an effort that could greatly enhance the ability of consumers to send and receive video and data with smartphones and other hand-held devices.
President Obama will sign a presidential memorandum on Monday that aims to make available for auction some 500 megahertz of spectrum that is now controlled by the federal government and private companies, administration officials said Sunday.
Specifically, the presidential memorandum will direct the National Telecommunications and Information Administration to identify federally controlled communications bands that can be made available within five years for exclusive or shared use by commercial companies.
Roughly 45 percent of the spectrum to be auctioned would come from federal government agencies that will be asked to give up allocations that they are not using or could share, according to administration officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity so as not to upstage the announcement.
The remainder would come from unused spectrum already scheduled for auction or from broadcasters and other spectrum licensees who would be offered incentives to give up or share parts of their communications airwaves. Currently, the spectrum for wireless communications is about 547 megahertz.
Lawrence H. Summers, the director of the National Economic Council and assistant to the president for economic policy, is expected to detail the broadband effort in a lunchtime speech in Washington to the New America Foundation, a public policy institute
Some spectrum also would be made available for free, unlicensed use by start-up companies and others, administration officials said. Such unlicensed spectrum has previously helped in the development of cordless phones, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth applications.
Harold Feld, legal director of Public Knowledge, a consumer-oriented policy group, said the interest of consumers will be most helped by auctions that help to promote competition between wireless companies rather than entrenching the dominant providers in the market.
Congress has insisted that the national broadband plan specifically address “national purposes” – job creation and economic growth, consumer welfare, civic participation, public safety and homeland security, health care, energy independence and efficiency, and other issues.
On Mar 11 2010 the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation hosted the FCC team tasked with implementing these purposes.
Slides are here.
The FCC has asked Congress for a four-week extension of the Feb. 17 deadline for delivering a national broadband plan.
“In order to ensure that there is sufficient time to more fully brief Commissioners and key members of Congress, to get additional input from stakeholders, and to fully digest the exhaustive record before the agency, the chairman has requested from Congressional leaders a short extension of 4 weeks in order to deliver the final plan,” said Colin Crowell, senior counselor to FCC chairman Julius Genachowski, in an e-mailed statement.
Dave Burstein’s entire article (original) is repro’d here for readability.
It turns out that AT&T (and almost all wireless companies) have powerful incentive to keep wireline alive because the wired backhaul is crucial to wireless success. Although Randall Stephenson’s first speech as AT&T CEO was “We are a wireless company,” they are backtracking on letting the wired side die. Suddenly this quarter, AT&T and Verizon are massively promoting DSL. Wireless companies, they decided, need the copper to provide more bandwidth to wireless. DSL can thrive in a wireless world.
That’s a crucial transformation that will preserve DSL/fiber’s role long into the future. It’s the path to “Thriving DSL in a Wireless World.” Wireless spectrum has important constraints and a crucial part of the solution is moving as much as possible over the existing wires. 40-50% of mobile calls are from home or office and can be carried via a femto or WiFi gateway. That’s the design of the AT&T, Verizon, and most European networks in the next few years, wildly accepted in the industry.
December 16, 2009
Background: This morning the staff of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) presented the policy outlines for the Congressionally mandated broadband plan, which is to be presented to Congress in 63 days.
The following statement is attributed to Gigi B. Sohn, president and co-founder of Public Knowledge:
“We are disappointed at what the FCC staff said were the most critical elements of the Commission’s broadband plan. At a time when U.S. standing in the world is rapidly falling in broadband penetration and adoption, and when bold plans are called for, the Commission appears to be satisfied with taking incremental steps.”
“As the staff and Chairman Genachowski said, competition is the key to increasing our broadband capacities, yet nothing in the outline presented this morning would increase competition. Reforming universal service and supporting municipal networks are worthwhile goals, but they would do nothing to reverse the slide caused by eight years of misbegotten telecommunications policies that have crippled most meaningful broadband competition for consumers.”
“There was no discussion of opening telecommunications networks to competitors. There was no discussion of structural separations of carriers into wholesale and retail components. These are the factors that Harvard’s Berkman Center told the FCC in a study a mere two months ago were the reasons other countries have surpassed ours – they are using policies we discarded.”