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By Dan Hays, Director of Telecom, PRTM
As we await the release of the FCC’s National Broadband Plan on Mar. 17, PRTM is hopeful that the forthcoming recommendations will effectively serve their intended purpose to help reinvigorate the United States’ leadership in broadband availability, speeds and services. While details of the plan are yet to be disclosed, we anticipate that four key areas will be addressed.
1. Enable new services
The FCC has made it clear that the National Broadband Plan must focus on the ultimate goal of delivering services and solutions in far-reaching areas such as education, healthcare, homeland security, and energy. We agree with this approach, and look forward to a plan that is rooted in facts and specific requirements to deliver high-impact, network- and mobility-enabled applications. For the plan to succeed, however, it is also clear that numerous other government organizations must rally around it. Alignment and support from the departments of Health and Human Services, Education, Energy, Transportation and others is needed to make the aspirational goals of the National broadband Plan a reality. Maximizing the value of expended broadband capability will require standards and unification that only the government can bring.
2. Break down barriers to network investments
Network investment is perhaps the greatest obstacle to widespread availability of high-speed broadband services in underserved areas. Accelerated expansion of broadband networks will be achieved through not only tax breaks, subsidies, and equalizing taxes, but also through the removal of obstacles that increase the cost of network deployment. Improved approval processes like the recently-passed FCC tower siting “shot clock” rule, are needed to improve zoning and deployment, promoting increased investment.
3. Free up spectrum to enable wireless solutions and mobility
While it is unlikely that even a majority of broadband traffic will ever be carried over wireless links in the United States, the FCC appears ready to move towards a doctrine of promoting efficient use. We applaud this direction, and look forward to the passing of the National Spectrum Inventory Act which will be the first step towards identifying underutilized and inefficiently managed spectrum. Achieving the FCC’s goal of freeing 500 MHz of spectrum for broadband wireless applications may be overly ambitious, but it is certainly the right direction. In fact, as the United States moves from a broadcast paradigm to one of on-demand and private networks, we expect to see further measures to more efficiently utilize wireless spectrum in many bands.
4. Bring broadband access to economically disadvantaged communities
While the broadband stimulus programs currently being managed by the NTIA and RUS are suffering from delays and widespread criticism for their lack of focus and action, we expect the National Broadband Plan to extend the focus on bringing broadband services to economically disadvantaged urban and rural communities. Rather than dwell on capital subsidies, however, we anticipate a recommended shift for the Universal Service Fund from the provision of traditional telephone services to broadband. This would reduce the recurring cost of broadband service to currently underserved and unserved consumers, enabling them to sign up for currently-unaffordable broadband plans.
We look forward to the release of the FCC’s National Broadband Plan, and to it reinvigorating the U.S. broadband industry with greater growth, speeds and availability.
PTRM is a global management consulting firm.