Julius Genachowski, chair of the FCC, was quite pleased to announce plans to transfer billions of dollars from the USF to develop broadband in rural and underserved areas of the country. More eagerly, the current FCC wants to connect 100 million homes to 100 Mbps service. A nice alliteration, but again, is it public policy? In many ways the FCC, and ultimately us, is a political football that is tossed in a given direction depending upon the controlling team. Under the Bush administration, many of us felt that competition was stymied by one ruling or position after another that favored the ILECs and larger cable companies. Under the Obama administration, those decisions are being challenged and the unfinished work on defining the future of the USF and net neutrality has swung into a new direction. What then makes us believe that the FCC's announcement will come to fruition?
The congressional leadership may change next year or possibly in 2012. Will we ever again establish ambitious plans to develop a decade long infrastructure effort and complete it? When the decision was made to establish the national highway system, we stuck to it. Politics affected where and when it was completed but ultimately the initiative reached a satisfactory conclusion. This effort to expand the reach and speed of broadband brings out the political differences of the Republican and Democratic parties. Therefore, we can expect the political reaction to be that of Yin and Yang. This is regrettable for two reasons, it waste money and time, and does not serve us, the public well.
There are flaws with transferring this money to private companies to build out infrastructure where they will profit off our tax dollars. Democrats couch this investment as needed for public safety, education and health. Republicans believe that so called "free markets" will produce the desired effect over time. Both may have points but there is a factual component that cannot be ignored. The US is falling behind the rest of the world when it comes to its IP infrastructure. Asia and Europe are racing ahead with bandwidth that is out of reach for 90% of Americans. This will negatively influence our ability to be economically competitive which will challenge every other initiative we might conceive.
In order for the National Broadband Plan to become public policy, we must come together as a nation willing to work unselfishly towards the better good. Our better days can still lie ahead. We must develop and implement plans that look beyond two and four year horizons. When that happens, then and only then, can announcements such as this, be public policy.
More on Friday.