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Experts Debate U.S. Global Broadband Rankings

WASHINGTON, June 24, 2010 – Experts this week debated whether the United States is seriously lagging behind other countries on broadband access and if its place on the global stage is related to a failure of telecommunications regulation.

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WASHINGTON, June 24, 2010 – Experts this week debated whether the United States is seriously lagging behind other countries on broadband access and if its place on the global stage is related to a failure of telecommunications regulation.

At a forum hosted by the Information Technology & Innovation Foundation, Sascha Meinrath, director of the Open Technology Initiative at the New America Foundation, said the United States was a leader in broadband penetration, but has fallen behind in adoption.

He showed current statistics from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development and an ITIF report that rank the United States as 15th in the world.

“This isn’t actually about the sky is falling or imminent destruction,” Meinrath said, adding that it’s more about the slow and steady erosion of U.S. competitiveness within an increasingly connected global economy.

The drop, according to Meinrath, is due in part to “overly laissez-faire” attitudes by Congress and Federal Communications Commission regulators. Meinrath compared the nation’s broadband standing to the regulatory failures in the Gulf of Mexico and the sub-prime mortgage crisis. Meinrath said the United States was the last to develop a national broadband plan, and the sum of all of these facts makes us “woefully unequipped” for a 21st century economy.

Meinrath showed how other countries have better penetration, cheaper prices and proactive broadband plans.

“It is remarkable that anyone would still be debating this fact,” he said.

Matthew Wood, associate director of the Media Access Project, focused on the U.S. failure in telecom regulation, pointing to three areas that he said are seriously lacking: universal service fund reforms, transparency regulations and competition policies.

Universal service is a problem because Wood said low broadband adoption is keeping the United States behind, even though this fund is being repurposed for broadband use.

Transparency issues begin with the U.S. reliance on third parties to gather information, he said. This needs to stop so that USF funds can be distributed properly, Wood said, because companies claim 95 percent of Americans have the capability for broadband access. The companies that stand to benefit from funds are the ones collecting the data, he said.

Wood also said customers should be made more aware of the service they receive and what they actually pay for.

Who can honestly say they can look at their cable bill and understand it, Wood asked.

There are several failures in competition policy, he said, because of mergers and wholesaling. Wood said the FCC has made predictions and had assurances from companies that there will be competition, but it hasn’t happened.

Wood said that Verizon capping its Fios fiber service at 25 million households evidences the lack of competition, and the fact that Verizon and SBC have acquired a number of smaller companies shows lack of merger policy.

Wood said it is a government failure that customers don’t have a baseline of information that companies should have to disclose to them about their service.

George Ford, chief economist for the Phoenix Center, disagreed with some of what Meinrath said in regards to statistical rankings: “I’m not going to make any claims about where we are, but I certainly am going to make some claims about how much of what is said is utter nonsense.”

“Ranks are for dummies,” Ford continued, showing ranking data for the rest of the world, and its inconsistencies. Ford showed that examining per capita adoption was futile because even if everyone were connected, there would not be 100 percent adoption. Ford said that, even though Australia, New Zealand and Spain all had 97 percent phones per capita, there were huge differences in rank because of population and broadband capabilities.

Japan has more people using broadband than France, said Ford, but ranks seven spots lower.

“Broadband per capita is a meaningless measure,” Ford said, because it isn’t properly scaled.

Ford added that the nation shouldn’t focus so much on the rankings. Rather, it should care about the value. According to Ford, the U.S. broadband connection has a value of 75 times that of Finland. This makes workers more effective and produces a higher GDP output, he said.

ITIF President Robert Atkinson said the United States is a leader in quality broadband, adding that the real problem is that only 62 percent of Americans have a computer at home. Combined with 96 percent of cable modem coverage, the problem simply is adoption, he said, and sometimes people just don’t want it.

Ford said that some people don’t adopt internet because of the risks of pornography and personal data security while others cannot afford it.

Atkinson said that competition is something that’s difficult to compare on a global stage because of geographic and other differences, but noted that the United States has the longest loop lengths in the world. Despite this, Atkinson said, the United States has more fiber deployment on a per-home basis than Europe.

Meinrath and Wood said no matter how you hash up the numbers, it is clear that America is not on a positive trajectory. “Numbers don’t lie, but statistics is a whole other story,” Meinrath said. Both stuck by their numbers, showing the quoted primary sources.

Wood concluded that merger reform has to happen. Meinrath concurred, quoting statistics that show broadband is cheaper and faster in Europe because of regulation.

Atkinson’s rebuttal asked, “What were we supposed to rank? … It is simply much harder to do this in the U.S.”

Ford asked, “Where is this nirvana government that can solve any problem? They are the worst bunch of problem solvers on the planet.”

The votes taken at the beginning of the debate showed 40 percent of the audience members agreeing with the opening statement, and 60 percent in disagreement. The final vote found 55 percent of audience members in agreement, 35 percent in disagreement, and 10 percent unclear on the issue.

David Cup is working at BroadbandBreakfast.com through an internship with the National Journalism Center. A student at the Franciscan University in Steubenville, Ohio, he is pursuing the majors of Political Science and Journalism. He has worked on his school yearbook and written for the Franciscan Sports Information Department.

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U.S. Broadband Deployment and Speeds are Beating Europe’s, Says Scholar Touting ‘Facilities-based Competition’

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WASHINGTON, June 10, 2014 – In spite of press reports to the contrary, U.S. broadband coverage is not falling behind European levels of service, academic Christopher Yoo said on Wednesday at the National Press Club.

“It seems like every other week there’s a new infographic or news story that talks about how the U.S. is falling behind in broadband speeds, we don’t have fiber to the home, and telecom companies are rolling in the profits while consumer prices soar,” said Doug Brake, telecommunications policy analyst with The Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, setting up the topic tackled in by Yoo in his presentation.

On the contrary, said Yoo, the founding director of the Center for Technology, Innovation and Competition, the U.S. led in many broadband metrics in 2011 and 2012. And, he said, it is precisely the absence of a “one size fits all” regulatory structure that has been been driving technological innovation forward in the marketplace.

In other words, according to Yoo, the American approach to facilities-based competition – where cable companies and telephone companies compete through rival communications networks –has succeeded.

While the findings may be “surprising” to some, Yoo said they proved the importance of examining the best approach to broadband regulation based on “real world data.”

The notion that “fiber is the only answer” to affordable high-speed broadband is a misconception, he said. Countries emphasizing fiber over rival technologies – including Sweden and France – were among the worst broadband performers.

In the U.S., 82 percent of households received broadband at speeds of at least 25 Megabits per second (Mbps), versus 54 percent in Europe. In rural areas, the difference was even greater: 48 percent in the U.S., versus 12 percent in Europe. The five countries that did beat U.S. coverage of greater than 25 Mbps (including Denmark and the Netherlands) are compact, urbanized regions with greater population densities.

Additionally, even looking at fiber-based technologies, the U.S. is outperforming Europe, he said. Fiber coverage in the U.S. went from 17 percent in 2011 to 23 percent in 2012. In Europe, fiber coverage went from 10 percent in 2011 to 12 percent in 2012.

And, based on the measurement of telecommunications investment per household, the U.S. number is more than double that of Europe: $562 versus $244 in the old world.

And, he said, American users consumed 50 percent more bandwidth than Europeans in 2011 and 2012.

“The best measure of how much a network is really worth is how much you use it,” Yoo said. “It’s great to have a very fast car, but unless you use it, it’s not really doing very much for you.”

One area where the U.S. could see improvement is in the area of broadband adoption, Brake said. That demonstrates continued need to demonstrate value in broadband for consumers.

Yoo agreed: “Availability is only a part of the question. There are plenty of people who have broadband available to them who are choosing not to adopt.”

Moderator Gerry Faulhaber added: “As regulators, we can mandate coverage, we can mandate buildout. What we can’t do is mandate people to use it.”

Keeping a series of tiered rates for broadband service is exactly what America’s broadband rollout needs, said Brake. That not only encourages consumers to purchase internet at lower introductory rates, it also efficiently places the burden on those who wish to pay more for higher-speed service. This helps to recuperate costs for networks.

“Is it better to provide 75 to 100 Mbps to 80 to 90 percent of the population, or one Gigabit per second to 10 to 20 percent of the population?”

Blair Levin, former director of the FCC’s National Broadband Plan, and now communications a science fellow at the Aspen Institute, said that comparisons with Europe doesn’t change America’s objective to build deeper fiber, use broadband to improve the delivery of goods and services, and connect more users.

“Which activity is more productive – looking at oneself in the mirror and asking, ‘do these jeans make me look fat?’ or going to the gym? Focusing on actions that improve one’s condition is better than wondering about how one should appear relative to others,” said Levin.

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Broadband Updates

Discussion of Broadband Breakfast Club Virtual Event on High-Capacity Applications and Gigabit Connectivity

WASHINGTON, September 24, 2013 – The Broadband Breakfast Club released the first video of its Broadband Breakfast Club Virtual Event, on “How High-Capacity Applications Are Driving Gigabit Connectivity.”

The dialogue featured Dr. Glenn Ricart, Chief Technology Officer, US IGNITESheldon Grizzle of GigTank in Chattanooga, Tennessee; Todd MarriottExecutive Director of UTOPIA, the Utah Telecommunications Open Infrastructure Agency, and Drew ClarkChairman and Publisher, BroadbandBreakfast.com.

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WASHINGTON, September 24, 2013 – The Broadband Breakfast Club released the first video of its Broadband Breakfast Club Virtual Event, on “How High-Capacity Applications Are Driving Gigabit Connectivity.”

The dialogue featured Dr. Glenn Ricart, Chief Technology Officer, US IGNITESheldon Grizzle of GigTank in Chattanooga, Tennessee; Todd MarriottExecutive Director of UTOPIA, the Utah Telecommunications Open Infrastructure Agency, and Drew ClarkChairman and Publisher, BroadbandBreakfast.com.

To register for the next Broadband Breakfast Club Virtual Event, “How Will FirstNet Improve Public Safety Communications?,” on Tuesday, October 15, 2013, at 11 a.m. ET/10 a.m. CT, please visit http://gowoa.me/i/XV8

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Breakfast Club Video: ‘Gigabit and Ultra-High-Speed Networks: Where They Stand Now and How They Are Building the Future’

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WASHINGTON, May 24, 2013 – Emphasizing the developing nature of broadband networks in the United States, speakers at the May 21 Broadband Breakfast Club event said that the recent achievement of ultra-high speed broadband networks has been a critical factor seeding transformative developments for organizations, individuals and communities. These developments, panelists said, were simply not possible before with slower speed networks.

Yet panelists at the event, “Becoming a Gigabit Nation: What Have We Learned About Ultra-High Speed Broadband?” also agreed that speed is not actually the most important factor in the maturing of these networks.

Event Highlights

Complete Program

Successful deployment of such networks requires concerted efforts and continual upgrades involving community leadership, assessment of consumer needs and desires, infrastructure development, application development and successful assessment of usage patterns. All of these factors affect the success of such gigabit and high-speed networks, panelists said.

In other words, high-speed networks need to be developed in concert with proposed applications, which are in turn developed in the context of their communities or customer base.

As gigabit cities consultant David Sandel said, gigabit and smart city transformation being undertaken is 90 percent sociology and 10 percent infrastructure. Sandel, president of Sandel and Associates, works with St. Louis, Kansas City and other communities worldwide and runs the Gigabit City Summit, a global forum of community leaders who are engaged in discussion on new forms of leadership for managing such networks.

Sandel said that new gigabit leadership must break out of traditional silos and engage in greater information exchange and collaboration. Less hierarchy, more inclusion and more communication, facilitate the success of gigabit services and applications, he said.

What’s Happening Now

Sandel and other panelists gave examples of how 100-plus megabit per second and gigabit-level connectivity is already providing considerable benefits to cities that have it – even where the majority of a city’s consumers do not yet have needs for those levels of service.

For example, Sandel described the success of a two-mile gigabit main street in St. Louis, Missouri. This project has attracted a number of innovative businesses to the area. He said that such projects carry several benefits to an entire city, such as enabling the use of cloud services, driving up real estate values, and creating high-value jobs. In addition, the current relatively higher costs of gigabit service in communities can be partially offset by institutional and industrial uses.

Similarly, Sheldon Grizzle, founder and co-director of the Chattanooga-based GIGTANK, a technology start-up accelerator, said that the implementation of gigabit broadband by the local utility EPB has been a boon to its electrical grid. Power outages in the area have decreased by 60 percent, he said.

Grizzle says that Chattanooga, as a small city of 170,000, sees itself as a good test case for gigabit networks. Its network now provides speeds of 50 Mbps for 50,000 subscribers. It also offers or Gbps symmetrical service (i.e. 1 Gbps upload and 1 Gbps download) for $300 a month, although the number of subscribers has been fewer. He attributed the relatively low demand for the gigabit offered to the high price point.

Grizzle said that GIGTANK has been recruiting application developers from around the world to build appropriate apps for the community, as Chattanooga’s gigabit network grows beyond its infancy.

Speed Issues

Notwithstanding high-profile gigabit build-outs in recent years, nationally broadband speeds have been steadily increasing by other methods over the last several years, said Kevin McElearney, senior vice president of network engineering and technical operations for Comcast Cable.

McElearney said that, for example, Comcast has innovated on nextgen technologies every year, increasing network speeds 11 times over the last 11 years, and is now running terabit links over the backbone to allow capacity for new applications. He said that Comcast now provides up to 100 Mbps download capacity, with 70 percent of consumers electing for 25 Mbps and 30 percent for tiers higher speeds.

McElearney said that Comcast sees the increasing use of multiple devices in households as the principal driver behind the demand for higher broadband speeds for consumers.

Application Development

William Wallace, Executive Director of U.S. Ignite, a developer of gigabit-ready digital experiences and applications, spoke of an “internet of immersive experience,” suggesting an internet experience completely different from prior experiences. Users will also be creating their own experiences, he said.

Wallace further noted that customization of network features around applications will help to build in the greatest efficiencies. For example, different applications will be characterized by different speeds, security features, cloud storage locations, latencies etc.

Scott Wallsten, vice president for research and senior fellow at the Technology Policy Institute, said that focus on ultra-high broadband speeds is misplaced. According to Wallsten, because internet speeds are already increasing consistently, policies focusing on speed are unnecessary. Instead, Wallsten said, greater attention should be paid to other metrics of broadband quality, such as latency and reliability.

Additionally, Wallsten stated that the government’s adoption programs should be focused on low-income inner-city non-adopters rather than rural high-speed development. He said that the Federal Communications Commission’s high cost fund portion of the Universal Service Fund has not been sufficient to pay for rural development. Instead, the best hope to help the most individuals get broadband is to focus on urban areas. Increased efficiencies in cities will offer a better chance for providers to lower costs and then expand network development in rural areas.

Sandel concluded with how education is critical for successful gigabit network development and that there should be a three-pronged approach: education for leaders as to the impacts and benefits of gigabit networks and applications across all sectors, development of clear economic development models that draw lines to revenue flows, and policies for inclusion of all populations so that everyone can participate.

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