SAN MATEO, Calif., May 12, 2009 – As the Obama administration’s FCC and technology policy agenda begins to take shape, internet policy experts at the Tech Policy Summit expressed relief at what they percieved as a more friendly White House for technology, but clashed on America’s success in broadband deployment and the role of wireless in expanding internet access.
Public Knowledge president Gigi Sohn was ecstatc after eight years of a “vast wasteland” in tech policy under the Bush administration. “It’s a different world – it’s quite mind-blowing.”
During the Bush years, there was no one to talk to on technology policy, Sohn said. She compared the climate under Bush to when the incoming Obama administration began to engage the technology community during the transition process. “It’s a brand new day,” she said. But while praising the administration for focusing attention on broadband issues and network openness, Sohn was cautious. “The devil is always in the details,” she warned.
Next-generation internet regulation should take into account that not all ISPs own their own pipes, said Brett Glass, owner of Wyoming-based wireless ISP LariatNet. Glass worried that regulations that might “sting” a large carrier would kill a small business such as his. Instead, he suggessted promoting compeition that would make regulation superfluous. “First, do no harm,” he suggested.
Sohn expressed concern over the duopoly market between cable and telephone companies that sell broadband services in many communities. “When you don’t have to compete, you don’t have to increase your speeds, and you don’t have to lower your price,” she said.
Sohn noted that even in the old narrowband era, the U.S. had over 7,500 individual businesses providing internet service.
But Paul Brigner, executive director of internet and technology policy at Verizon, insisted that companies are competing furiously. Wireless is an additional competitive force in a “vibrant and competitive marketplace,” he said.
Ericcsson senior vice president Jan Uddenfeldt suggested that the U.S. is on par with most other markets in the competition arena. But Sohn pointed out many of the countries receive massive government subsidies for broadband. In particular, Austrailia’s government hands out the equivilant of US$800 billion to its telecom companies, she said. And population density is not an excuse for poor deployment, she said.
The deployment problem could be solved with more spectrum being made available to make wireless internet service faster, Glass suggested. And prices could come down if his costs for “backhaul” fiber capacity in “special access markets” were lowered. Backbone providers should have incentives to lower prices for backhaul in rural areas, Glass said.
And by solving the so-called “middle mile” problem combined with additional spectrum, wireless ISPs could provide even faster service to places that cable doesn’t currently pass. “WISPs are everywhere,” he said.