Originally published: January 19, 2011
Last updated: January 19, 2011 - 6:07pm
[Commentary] When the Federal Communications Commission released the National Broadband Plan 10 months ago, it contained several red herrings involving small Independent telcos.
One of these, for example, is the plan’s recommendation to transition today’s voice-focused Universal Service program to focus instead on broadband. The reason this is a red herring is that the majority of funding in today’s voice-focused Universal Service program already goes toward infrastructure that also supports broadband service. Indeed, the fact that most small telcos have deployed broadband is due, in no small part, to funding they received through today’s voice-focused program. Very little of today’s Universal Service funding goes toward infrastructure dedicated only to providing voice service.
The NBP also seemed to be making an important statement when it recommended ending all Universal Service support for voice-only networks within 10 years. And initially this seemed to raise all sorts of questions about what would happen in a world where incumbent carriers were no longer required to offer traditional phone service. But perhaps because so little of the Universal Service fund (USF) goes toward voice-only infrastructure, small telcos don't seem to be overly concerned about how quickly they deploy VOIP.
Another red herring in the NBPP is its “100 Squared” goal of seeing 100 Mb/s service available to 100 million U.S. homes within 10 years. This proved to be not such a stretch goal as stakeholders realized that cable companies were well on their way to achieving that goal through their DOCSIS 3.0 deployments. What the “100 Squared” goal did succeed in doing, however, was to serve as an ironic counterpoint to the NBP’s recommendation to fund service at speeds as low as 4 Mb/s for the proposed broadband Universal Service program. That recommendation, small telcos said, had the potential to fuel an urban/ rural digital divide. It certainly appears that the minimum target should be higher, particularly considering that the FCC’s own numbers project bandwidth demand to exceed 4 Mb/s within six years. But in some ways, the 4 Mb/s vs. 100 Mb/s debate is yet another red herring, in that the 4 Mb/s target it establishes is a baseline that most small telcos already have met.
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