Broadband Census, November 11, 2008
November 11 – State telecommunications officials concerned about the universal deployment and use of high-speed internet services joined together at a San Jose conference on Thursday to compare notes, plot strategy and encourage programs and activities that will lead to better broadband nationwide.
The states represented at the conference, the broadband summit of the Federal Communications Commission and the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners, were from Alaska, California, Iowa, Indiana, Massachusetts, Oregon, and Tennessee.
The FCC-NARUC joint summit meeting was the first in three years – or the first since the last sputtering of the legal battles precipitated by the 1996 Telecommunications Act. Those fights concerned whether state regulators should have a say in setting competition rules for telephone services.
By the end of 2004, federal courts had sided with Bell companies in urging federal regulation of telecommunications, cutting state regulators out of interstate communications. Internet services have generally also fallen in that category, often hamstringing the efforts of state regulators to act on broadband access within their states.
This focus on federal telecommunications policy is one reason why it is the notion of a national broadband strategy that has been the talk of Washington policy circles in the lead-up to the presidential election.
Many want and expect the administration of president-elect Barack Obama to take significant action in improving the nation’s broadband infrastructure.
The state officials convening at the broadband summit were clearly going local.
They were largely focused on getting their own houses in order – by ensuring that state and local officials had the proper data and tools to understand specifics about local broadband availability, adoption, speeds, prices and performance.
“While great progress has been made in the deployment of new technologies…, it is important for us to create strategies to address both aspects of our technology: speed and availability,” said Mark Johnson, a regulatory commissioner from Alaska.
“Broadband at 768 kilobits per second (kbps) is just the beginning,” Johnson said, referring to the FCC’s March decision changing the definition of broadband from 200 kbps to 768 kbps.
Johnson wants “to consider policies that permit the delivery of data at 2.5 [megabits per second] (Mbps), 10 Mbps and higher, and ensure that these services are extended to Americans throughout the country,” including the most remote parts of Alaska.
California Public Utility Commissioner Rachelle Chong praised California’s Broadband Task Force for its aggressive efforts to map out broadband within the state, and encouraged the federal government to follow California’s “granular” approach to mapping, as well as its high goals for speeds: 50 Mbps by 2015.
In June, the FCC released an order that would collect broadband statistics on the census tract level, or an area that is slightly smaller than the 5-digit ZIP codes in which it currently collects data.
And in October, Congress passed a law, the Broadband Data Improvement Act, requiring that FCC to report annually to Congress on broadband data, and to create a framework for state governments to collect additional broadband data.
Chong also encouraged “federal or state models for permitting standards and encouraging collaboration among providers. For example, in California, CalTrans provides notice to interested telecommunications providers of highway projects, so that fiber conduit can be laid while the roads already are opened up for repair, or are being built.”
BroadbandCensus.com also presented at the conference, as did officials from Google, the Pacific Research Institute, the Phoenix Center for Advanced Legal & Economic Public Policy Studies, and grant recipients from a fund created by the California Broadband Task Force.
The joint summit was presided over by Deborah Taylor Tate, a Republican member of the Federal Communications Commission whose term expires when the next Congress begins its work, and Larry Landis, Indiana Utility Regulatory Commissioner.
Tate heralded the summit as “historic” and said that existing local, state and regional broadband initiatives “will have a positive and lasting impact on the future of broadband deployment.”
Tate stated that “[b]roadband is vital to this nation’s information revolution,” and brings exponential benefits to rural communities, from better access to healthcare, to connecting America’s most isolated citizens. Regarding collaboration at all levels of government, Tate said, “With our combined expertise, we are assured of fulfilling our mission to deploy broadband to every corner of America.”
Landis, a Republican, praised outgoing FCC Chairman Kevin Martin for his focus on improving broadband deployment, and said that Martin “he has been tenacious in his advocacy of this goal.”
Landis also said that Betty Ann Kane of the District of Columbia Public Service Commission would soon produce a template upon which states can provide “best practices” information about their broadband strategies.
Broadband Breakfast Club:
Editor’s Note: Join the next Broadband Breakfast Club on Tuesday, November 18, when a panel of experts including Stan Fendley, director of legislative and regulatory policy for Corning, Kyle McSlarrow, CEO of the National Cable and Telecommunications Association, and John Windhausen, president of Telepoly Consulting, will consider the question, “Should Government Funding Be Part of a National Broadband Plan?”
And on Tuesday, December 9, BroadbandCensus.com’s breakfast club will consider the very issue of how broadband applications – including telemedicine – can harness demand for high-speed internet services. Register at https://broadbandbreakfast.eventbrite.com