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National Broadband Plan

Berkman Center Report on Next Generation Connectivity Criticizes U.S. Policy Choices

WASHINGTON, November 17, 2009 – The main purpose of the report by the Berkman Center at Harvard University, commissioned by the Federal Communications Commission, was to examine global broadband policies and determine how the United States may adopt principles employed by the rest of the world as a means of expanding the current state of domestic broadband. Among nations, there seem to be two different overarching goals, ubiquity and capacity.

Many European nations seem to be reaching for a goal of ubiquity rather than capacity. While they do seek to obtain high-speed connections, their first goal has been to achieve mass adoption and availability of broadband. This ubiquity was a key portion of Japan’s early broadband planning, but now it has shifted toward higher-capacity connectivity.

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Editor’s Note: The following is a BroadbandCensus.com summary and analysis of the recent report, “Next Generation Connectivity,” released by the Berkman Center, and commissioned by Federal Communications Commission.

WASHINGTON, November 17, 2009 – The main purpose of the report by the Berkman Center at Harvard University, commissioned by the Federal Communications Commission, was to examine global broadband policies and determine how the United States may adopt principles employed by the rest of the world as a means of expanding the current state of domestic broadband. Among nations, there seem to be two different overarching goals, ubiquity and capacity.

Many European nations seem to be reaching for a goal of ubiquity rather than capacity. While they do seek to obtain high-speed connections, their first goal has been to achieve mass adoption and availability of broadband. This ubiquity was a key portion of Japan’s early broadband planning, but now it has shifted toward higher-capacity connectivity.

The U.S., said the Berkman report, has never had a properly-organized and centralized plan to promote either ubiquity or capacity. However, with the Broadband Technology Opportunities Program and the Universal Service Fund, it seems like the choice is being made toward ubiquity.

Open access seems to be another trend which the U.S. has not significantly participated. The Berkman report suggests that this has lead to mediocre broadband performance.

“Our most surprising and significant finding is that “open access” policies—unbundling, bitstream access, collocation requirements, wholesaling, and/or functional separation—are almost universally understood as having played a core role in the first generation transition to broadband in most of the high performing countries; that they now play a core role in planning for the next generation transition; and that the positive impact of such policies is strongly supported by the evidence of the first generation broadband transition.” read the report.

The U.S. largely abandoned policies of open access in 2001 when cable became the dominant form of high-speed access, and in 2003, when the FCC’s “triennial review” deregulated the application of common carrier rules to high-speed connectivity offered by Bell companies.

However, it appears that open access not only for wireline, but also wireless access, is one of the main factors in gaining ubiquity of access, said the Berkman report. Even nations that initially have eschewed the practice – such as Switzerland and New Zealand – are beginning to accept it now. The main benefit of open access is that it lowered the barrier to entry for new market entrants, which in turn created competition and caused speeds to increase as a method of competition.

The investment of $7.2 billion by the U.S. is comparable on a per-capita basis with most of the rest of the world. But the investment does not mirror the style of most of the rest of the world.

In Asia the investments were of higher quantity and with an eye toward long-term investments. Additionally, these investments were not just direct investments. Rather, they were tax breaks and low-interest loans. France has not invested any money directly but has just created a highly competitive environment.

Broadband applications are another major factor of adoption which the U.S. seems to be lagging, said the Berkman report. The rest of the world seems to be actively developing applications which require high speed connections which include: smart meters, home based telehealth, transportation controls.

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development ranks the U.S. as 15th in broadband penetration, which is around middle of rankings. Many people have claimed that the OECD methodology is biased against the U.S. since it counts penetration per 100 inhabitants. While the U.S. does have larger household sizes than the rest of the world and many households have a single high speed connection, according to the research done by Berkman, a change from per 100 inhabitants to per household would not significantly change where the U.S. ranks.

In addition, by using households the use of broadband by business would not be included. However, it is important to collect both per resident and per household, to determine if policies are reaching both the business and household populations.

While high speed access and ubiquitoU.S. access are both high on the agenda for most nations, the next generation of access lies in mobile broadband. The rise in the sale of smart-phones over the past few years shows the public’s unrelenting demand for access outside of the home and office.

While Wi-Fi hotspots have been popular for years access everywhere is really what the public wants. Yet again though the U.S. does not rank high: “On mobile broadband the United States is a weak performer. On nomadic connectivity we do better, but are not a particularly high performer.” (“Nomadic connectivity” refers to connectivity through Wi-Fi hotspots.) Using OECD data, the U.S. ranks 19th in third-generation wireless subscriptions.

One of the major problems faces by consumers is the disparity between advertised and actual speeds. The Berkman center was able to access data from the speed test company Ookla. This data set included 41 million people from OECD nations. They found “that Japan, South Korea, and the Netherlands are particularly high-performing countries. Actual test data particularly calls attention to Sweden’s very high performance in fact, much more so than its advertised speeds alone would suggest, and confirms Portugal’s surprisingly high performance on advertised speeds (by comparison to penetration) as consonant with high actually measured speeds. Moreover, from a U.S. specific perspective, actual measurement benchmarks look better for average download speeds, but worse for highest speeds. In average download speeds, the U.S. moves from the top of the fourth quintile to the middle of the third quintile.”

Rahul Gaitonde has been writing for BroadbandBreakfast.com since the fall of 2009, and in May of 2010 he became Deputy Editor. He was a fellow at George Mason University’s Long Term Governance Project, a researcher at the International Center for Applied Studies in Information Technology and worked at the National Telecommunications and Information Administration. He holds a Masters of Public Policy from George Mason University, where his research focused on the economic and social benefits of broadband expansion. He has written extensively about Universal Service Fund reform, the Broadband Technology Opportunities Program and the Broadband Data Improvement Act

Broadband Mapping

In Discussing ‘Broadband and the Biden Administration,’ Trump and Obama Transition Workers Praise Auctions

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Screenshot from the November 2 Broadband Breakfast Live Online webcast

November 22, 2020 – In the event that the incoming administration of President-elect Joe Biden seeks substantial funding for broadband infrastructure, there is a strong likelihood that such monies would be channeled through a reverse-auction mechanism, said panelists at the Broadband Breakfast Live Online event on November 11.

See more from Broadband Breakfast Live Online, including “Broadband and the Biden Administration, Part II,” on December 2, 2020.

In a discussion with Broadband Breakfast Editor and Publisher Drew Clark, two broadband policy experts who served on the transition teams for Donald Trump and Barack Obama, respectively, championed the role of such a mechanism as efficient and fair.

Previous attempts to run funding through other selection processes provided funds only to the well connected, claimed to Mark Jamison, research and education director at the University of Florida, and who served on then President-elect Trump’s 2016 transition team.

Places with a Democratic governor or a congressman of either party that sat on a powerful committee were funded more often compared to other regions, Jamison said.

Whether or not funding mechanisms were in fact biased in that way, both Jamison and Technology Policy Institute President Scott Wallsten both praised the transparency and economic efficiency of the Federal Communications Commission’s reverse-auction funding mechanism.

Wallsten, an economist who was involved in the transition for then President-elect Obama, and who also served on the National Broadband Plan implemented in the first year of the Obama administration, criticized the Rural Utility Service and the old funding process of Universal Service Fund. Both said under these mechanism, a lot of money is spent without good information about how such funds are awarded or distributed.

Wallsten and Jamison agreed that more data would help make broadband funding more effective, they also said that the FCC was right to move forward with its Rural Digital Opportunity Fund auction on October 29 – part of the new auction-based approach to the Universal Service Fund – despite imperfect mapping.

In part, this was because any inadequacy of mapping data can be resolved in the challenge process, said Wallsten. Additionally, it is not clear that auctions like RDOF, or the Connect American Fund auction in 2018, would have yielded better results had the FCC waited to update their maps.

Jamison and Wallston also projected how the Biden administration might tackle net neutrality, Section 230 and antitrust regulation.

Jamison said that if the Biden administration reinstitutes net neutrality, it will quickly see that that won’t work very well.

Wallsten said that if it’s reinstituted the debate will be different than in the past. A large part of net neutrality is paid prioritization where third parties can pay ISP’s to put their content “at the front of the line.” He said that the pandemic has demonstrated why no paid prioritization may be a mistake, as many people need guarantees of stable connection for their schooling and telehealth applications.

Wallsten also noted that many made doom and gloom forecasts when the Trump administration FCC removed net neutrality protections in December 2017. None of those predictions came to pass, he said.

Both also agreed that the FCC should not be involved the regulation of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which protects tech platforms from liability for user-generated comments.

They also were wary of changes to the consumer welfare standard governing antitrust because, said Jamison, “If you’re not regulating for consumers, who are we regulating for?”

See “Broadband Breakfast Live Online on Wednesday, November 11: Broadband and the Biden Administration,” Broadband Breakfast

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National Broadband Plan

National Broadband Plan Has Held Up Well, With Notable Downsides, Say Authors

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Photo of Blair Levin, former executive director of the National Broadband Plan, by New America used with permission

June 29, 2020 — The National Broadband Plan has been successful, despite notable downsides, said panelists in a Federal Communications Bar Association webinar on Friday.

The plan, first released ten years ago, aimed to increase competition, provide lower-cost service to more Americans and decrease regulatory barriers to broadband rollout.

“Ten years in this space in terms of technology is remarkable,” said Rebekah Goodheart of Jenner & Block. “At the time only 15 percent of people had access… of 25 megabits… The fact that this plan was able to stand up through time shows how visionary it really was.”

“All the stuff that we’re taking for granted now are things that came out of recommendations from the plan,” she added.

Participants noted that, despite broadband access deficiencies amid the coronavirus, “overall broadband adoption rates [are] going up reasonably well right now,” said John Horrigan, Senior Fellow at the Technology Policy Institute.

But there are still significant barriers to unfettered telework capabilities, he said.

“We’re also waking up to the fact that smartphones, as useful as they are, have significant limitations for completing homework,” he said.

Ruth Milkman of Quadra Partners agreed.

“There’s a lot of stuff you can’t do on a smartphone,” she said. “It’s hard to read papers… and there are data caps, and it can be quite expensive if you try to use it in the same way that you would use a fixed wireline network.”

Blair Levin, non-resident Fellow at the Metropolitan Policy Project of the Brookings Institution, said that sections of the National Broadband Plan held up remarkably well, even ten years later.

“In the healthcare section which says, ‘We really need to utilize telehealth because someday there’ll be a pandemic’… it does look very prophetic,” he said.

Despite the proactivity of the policy, Levin said, it has certain shortcomings that the FCC should address.

“We’ve become much more aware in this society of different ways in which our institutions do not include everyone and lead to inequalities,” he said. “I would argue that absolutely needs to be a new plan… now it’s more important than ever because we recognize the importance of closing that digital divide.”

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Digital Inclusion

Authors of the 2010 National Broadband Plan Say That a ‘Refresh’ Should Not Only Be Up to FCC

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Photo of INCOMPAS policy summit panelists discussing the National Broadband Plan by Adrienne Patton

WASHINGTON, March 4, 2020 – Panelists at the INCOMPAS policy summit Tuesday looked back with fondness on the Federal Communication Commission’s National Broadband Plan that was released 10 years ago this month. They agreed that if the plan is refreshed, the FCC should not be the lone agency to lead in the changes.

The 10-year-old plan was designed to “ensure robust competition” and “maximize the benefits of broadband,” while fostering the spread of broadband across the country, said INCOMPAS General Counsel Angie Kronenberg.

New Street Research Policy Analyst Blair Levin, who led the plan’s development, called it a “three-act play.”

The first act was the hiring people. The second act was holding hearings and acquiring data. The third act was an extensive writing process, Levin said.

When asked how the United States is doing in regards to the plan, Levin said there have been great improvements and some complications.

Mattey Consulting Principal Carol Mattey who worked on the plan, said it was a “long and evolutionary process,” that often required “nitty gritty details” from complex concepts.

Technology Policy Institute Senior Fellow John Horrigan, who also worked on the plan, said that while the statistics do not show a large increase in Americans that have wireline broadband at home, smart phones and mobile devices have made a huge difference.

Even so, Horrigan admitted that for children who have to do homework at home, smart phones are not enough.

However, Horrigan said the way that policy makers understand and think about the digital divide has improved.

A decade ago, city mayors were not concerned about digital inclusion, and now that has changed, said Horrigan.

Levin disclosed his frustration with the “metrics” section of the plan. The availability of bandwidth should not hinder economic growth, said Levin. But, “fundamentally we’ve made progress,” Levin admitted.

“The regulatory process is too slow to catch up,” and legislators are hesitant to look so far in the future while also considering cost concerns, said Mattey.

Looking ahead to a possible refresh of the plan, Horrigan said the FCC should not be the sole organization reworking the document.

Levin agreed and added that broadband has changed over the past decade as well. He called broadband a “mixed bag.”

The whole federal government should be thinking about how to revive the plan and take into consideration cybersecurity and privacy, Levin advised.

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