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FCC Wants 100 Mbps For 100 Million
Which in typical Genachowski fashion sounds good, but means little...
by Karl Bode 12:15PM Tuesday Feb 16 2010
Speaking at the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners (NARUC) conference in DC today, FCC boss Julius Genachowski touched on some of the details of the agency's national broadband plan, which is scheduled to be presented before Congress in 29 days. Genachowski, who has had a bit of a nasty habit of being immensely and sometimes painfully vague when talking about broadband, continued that theme this week, talking about the immense benefits broadband brings American communities, but not being particularly clear about the FCC's goals on this front.

Genachowski's speech (pdf) covered familiar ground, telling attendees the plan would work on reforming the eRate program (funded with USF funds), freeing up spectrum for fourth generation wireless broadband use, and creating a national emergency wireless broadband network. One new wrinkle Genachowski did bring to his speech is the unveiling of something called the "100 Squared" initiative. According to Genachowski, the agency would like to see 100 million Americans delivered speeds of 100 Mbps (you'll note with no hard timetable):
Our plan will set goals for the U.S. to have the world’s largest market of very high-speed broadband users. A "100 Squared" initiative -- 100 million households at 100 megabits per second -- to unleash American ingenuity and ensure that businesses, large and small, are created here, move here, and stay here. And we should stretch beyond 100 megabits. The U.S. should lead the world in ultra-high-speed broadband testbeds as fast, or faster, than anywhere in the world. In the global race to the top, this will help ensure that America has the infrastructure to host the boldest innovations that can be imagined.
While "100 x 100" certainly sounds good, it's not a particularly lofty goal once you understand that without the FCC even lifting a finger this goal will be accomplished in a few years. The nation's cable providers already offer DOCSIS 3.0 service, which is theoretically capable of speeds in excess of 100 Mbps, to 52 million of the nation's 120 million cable customers. DOCSIS 3.0 upgrades are relatively inexpensive, and the cable industry should easily pass at least 100 million cable customers with these faster speeds in the next few years. Comcast already passes 90% of their footprint.

That's before even considering municipal and cooperative fiber or Verizon's FiOS deployment, which currently passes 15.4 million homes and businesses in 16 states. Verizon's network is capable of offering service at speeds of 100 Mbps, but the carrier largely believes that speed is little more than a marketing talking point until higher-bandwidth applications are developed. While there are carriers now offering 100 Mbps service, such services are expensive and uptake is low.

Hitting 100 Mbps is certainly nice, but pricing, rural coverage and competition (only hinted at by the FCC boss) are the real issues. Reaching a third of the country with obscenely fast speeds excites your audience, but what's more important is the FCC determining a broadband baseline, then ensuring that service level for everybody. Finland wants to make 100 Mbps service a legal right for everyone by the end of 2015. According to Genachowski, our baseline metric for broadband will be "faster than 1 to 2 megabits," though he's again, not specific and offers no concrete solution or timetable.

While Genachowski's latest lip service to broadband sounds good, it's still hard to shake the feeling that the national broadband plan is going to be neither ambitious nor evolutionary. In addition to the catchy-sounding but rather empty 100-squared initiative, Genachowski took time to praise the plan's inclusion of the cable industry's new "A+ program," which we already informed you was a largely empty project aimed at using taxpayer funds to advertise only slightly subsidized cable services.

There's still absolutely no indication from the FCC that their national broadband plan is going to tackle the industry's lack of competition. If there's one thing you can be sure of, a truly worthwhile broadband plan would make competition its central theme, given competition organically cures many other problems (net neutrality, abusive pricing). More competition would mean less revenue for major carriers, whose lobbyists would be screaming bloody murder right now if the plan did anything of particular note. You'll notice carriers aren't sweating. 29 days until the plan's unveiling....

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Lake Zurich, IL

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Genachowski, who has had a bit of a nasty habit of being immensely and sometimes painfully vague
Isn't that a prerequisite for being part of the Obama administration?

So all these wonder innovations that are going to come provided we all have 100 megabit service -- what's the incentive for companies to develop them, given the proposed punitive tax policies and "soak the rich" mentality? Why would the much-maligned venture capitalists bother investing in American innovation if they're going to be taxed into oblivion and regulated to the point of instanity?