When the oldest among the Congress complains that the FCC isn’t doing enough to elevate the speeds of the nation’s broadband services, you know there is a problem. Well, that is happening with greater regularity these days, with more of the legislators getting on the bandwagon, as they realize that so much of what happens to this nation in the next 10 years hinges on our response to the crucial questions of availability and speed in the handling of information.
The intelligent people are pushing for the nation, the FCC, and the providers of service, to all wake up and see what is going to happen if we don’t make some bold moves soon. The train is moving slowly right now, and the wise want to keep it on the track and help it pick up speed.
Even the oldest US Senators have gotten the message—the US wants fast broadband. And they have started to ask FCC Chair Julius Genachowski some hard questions about why the new National Broadband Plan sets such apparently modest goals for the US as 4Mbps universal service by 2020.
Octogenarian Senator Daniel Inouye (D-HI) put it most bluntly in a recent set of written questions (PDF) to Genachowski from the Senate Commerce Committee.
“The National Broadband Plan (NBP) proposes a goal of having 100 million homes subscribed at 100Mbps by 2020,” he wrote, “while the leading nations already have 100Mbps fiber-based services at costs of $30 to $40 per month and beginning rollout of 1Gbps residential services, which the FCC suggests is required only for a single anchor institution in each community by 2020. This appears to suggest that the US should accept a 10- to 12-year lag behind the leading nations.”
“What is the FCC’s rationale for a vision that appears to be firmly rooted in the second tier of countries?”
Senator Mark Begich (D-AK) put it a bit more tactfully. “Why did the plan settle on the download speed of 4MB by 2020? It seems a bit modest for a goal.”
It is very modest when you factor in the advances that will be in place in ten years. It is like hunting a moving target, you must lead with the shot by a certain amount, with increasing speed of the target. That target would be the highest speeds attainable – or it should be…
And Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-ND) wanted to know why urban areas were targeted with 100Mbps connections while rural areas looked likely to end up with the minimum 4Mbps. “How will you structure the policies to meet these goals in a way that doesn’t exacerbate the existing digital divide?”
Inouye was more blunt. “In reality, the 100 squared plan (100 million households receiving 100Mbps) will likely be implemented in urban areas, while rural Americans are only assured of a speed of 4Mbps. Are we no longer committed to ensuring that all Americans receive comparable affordable communication services?” he asked.
Genachowski recently submitted his answers to these questions, and he’s not backing down. “The Plan’s universalization targets of 4Mbps download and 1Mbps upload [are] aggressive. It is one of the highest universalization targets of any country in the world. Many nations, such as South Korea and Finland, adopted short-term download targets around 1Mbps. The Plan recommends reevaluating the 4Mbps target every year so this target may rise over time, which will ensure that Americans continue to receive high quality broadband access at an affordable rate, and that consumers in rural areas will continue to receive broadband service that is reasonably comparable to the service provided in urban areas.”
He made the further point that “median speed of broadband service purchased by consumers today is 4Mbps.” We’re not quite sure what the point of this claim is, as it basically suggests that rural residents could be 10 years behind in 2020.
Here I believe the mathematical term the chairman is reaching for is mean, not median. At least I would hope that is what he is reaching for. The ability to differentiate the meaning of “mean” from “median” is becoming as much of a test of stupidity for me as the test of the way someone pronounces n-u-c-l-e-a-r. People of any attainment should know the word is noo-klee-ar, and those that say noo-ku-lar both show their nescience and also make me doubt the rest of their knowledge. (sorry for the digression, but precision in speaking is the least we should expect of people in public office!)
And the comparisons to countries like Finland are misleading. Yes, the Finns have set a 1Mbps minimum for universal service, but that goal takes effect this year, not in 2020. Likewise, Spain has adopted a 1Mbps minimum, but it takes effect in 2011.
Fortunately, the 4Mbps is a minimum, and the FCC commits to “revisiting that target every four years and adjusting it as circumstances change.”
With the economy in the shambles that it is in, it is easy to mislead the public by stating that we should not be spending on this, but the truth is that it is precisely this type of thing we should be spending large amounts of money on.
And the internet speeds are Finnish or South Korean…