The National Broadband Plan hasn’t been completed as a draft or even bullet points, but the ax is already coming down. The Plan is likely to disappoint us, says Business Week in their article National Broadband Plan: Why Consumers May Be Let Down:
Defining broadband is an important effort (so is mapping out where broadband is), but consumers are likely to be disappointed by the National Broadband Plan, because the divide between what the American people want and how the government works means a lot of consumers’ desires will fall into the chasm between.
There’s no “likely” about it. American citizens who are hoping for better access to the Internet–or any access at all–will most certainly be disappointed to find out that nothing will change except for the increasing cost. I’m not surprised, but wish it wasn’t costing taxpayers so much.
Telecom lobbyists are paying less and getting more for their campaign contributions these days. I don’t see a reason to believe that things will change, given the current perspective and dialog. More importantly in this article, the notion of “broadband” (the means of getting access to the Internet) is being framed as the end game. Broadband is not the end game.
Make no mistake: Broadband is NOT the same as the Internet. Broadband is a poorly defined speed, a pipe, the means by which we access the Internet. It’s a marketing term used by the telephone and cable companies to describe their paltry offerings, which have resulted in the United States being ranked 17th in the world (and falling). A significant problem with using “broadband” as our national goal is that the FCC has not defined or measured it, or assessed its distribution (PDF). Of course the telephone and cable companies know, but they aren’t telling. And they’re effectively in charge for now.
If I could pull the plug on this well-financed debacle, I would in a heartbeat. Instead of focusing on the means (the pipe used to get there), let’s focus on the real goal: access to the Internet.
I propose that instead of pursuing this losing battle, we start talking about a Global Internet Plan for America. Why?
- We’re really trying to get access to the global Internet resources: everything that is available now and being created in the future. We want access to the global Internet. The Internet offers advanced information services and benefits to everyone, in many languages and many forms.
- The United States of America has unique political and technological resources, so this Plan is uniquely designed for Americans. Americans care about each other. We want our nation recover to economically. We want the best for our kids. We want all benefits to be widely available, in rural as well as urban settings. We don’t want our families, friends, or ourselves to be denied or limited access to the benefits of the Internet for any reason.
How do we get there? The current “debate” needs to be reframed to show priority for citizen-customer concerns and experiences. As the debate is framed now, it allows incumbent service providers to divide and conquer the conversation, the possibilities for change, and our future. Here are a few new ways to talk about this global Internet plan for America.
Decoupling access from delivery: The global Internet represents significant economic development benefits in the form of more competitive choices, lower prices, and faster performance. However, our service providers are increasingly serving as gatekeepers, choosing what information and how (devices, speed, etc.) we can or can not access it. Americans will realize the greatest benefit only if we decouple the Internet goods and services from the delivery pipe (broadband). This is called structural separation. For the greatest amount of benefit, we should be allowed to choose for ourselves what information to access, on our schedules and according to our needs, using our choice of hardware devices and software.
Monopoly rents as private taxation: Since the telephone and cable companies are the only game in town (where there is Internet access), they have considerable persuasive abilities when it comes to raising rates. Citing Kushnick’s Law: “A regulated company will always renege on promises to provide public benefits tomorrow in exchange for regulatory and financial benefits today.” For instance, we’ve already paid $300 billion dollars in approved phone rate increases for telephone company promises that have never been fulfilled. One way of looking at this is as a private tax that takes in ever-increasing amount of our income. How often have you heard of local Public Utilities Commissions denying rate hikes? That doesn’t happen very often!
Coverage is not competition: Broadband service over telephone lines (DSL) has physical distance limitations, so is not available to all homes or businesses. Broadband over cable lines (cable modem service) passes a majority of homes in the nation, and is sometimes the only choice for access. In these areas, the price of access is high. What this means is that there are parts of the nation which either do not have access to the Internet at all, or have effectively one choice for providers. A Brookings Working Paper from 2002, The United States Broadband Problem: Analysis and Policy Recommendations (PDF), states the problem accurately:
Thus the effect of current industry structure is to generate a stable duopoly in residential Internet services, with continued monopoly control in most other markets – by the ILECs in voice and business data services, and by the CATV industry in residential video. Neither industry would logically be interested in provoking highly dynamic competition in open-architecture, high speed, and/or symmetric broadband services to either businesses or homes. Hence the slow pace of improvement in broadband services is not surprising. Unfortunately, however, it damages the economic growth, social welfare, and national security of the United States, and indeed of the world.
This means that any claims of nationwide coverage are suspect. As mentioned above, actual coverage and subscriber/customer data is not shared with the government, so the FCC doesn’t know how bad this problem is. However, there is no reason that access to the benefits of the Internet should be denied to any of our nation’s citizens. Keeping the data secret does not serve in the nation’s best interest. I want an Internet plan that works for all Americans.
There are more issues that can be properly described: problems inherent in the current state of the industry, and solutions that support ubiquitous access to the global Internet by all Americans. This is a plan I want to see come to life. This is the plan that will bring benefits to the entire nation. I am not alone in calling for this plan.
I welcome your additions in the comments below. Thanks go to George Lakoff for perspective on reframing this issue.