The Federal Communications Commission is awash in advice from companies, industry associations, and public-interest groups after its Monday deadline for comments on a national broadband plan.
Most observers agree that the FCC's efforts to make broadband ubiquitous in the U.S. are both timely and laudable, but the devil is in the details. Battle lines are being drawn between network operators and public-interest groups.
Time Warner is advising the FCC to not rock the boat by adopting regulations that could hamper future investments. "At the same time that it acts to stimulate broadband availability and adoption where necessary, the commission must be cognizant of preserving and enhancing the pro-investment and innovation-conducive environment that is responsible for the growth of the broadband marketplace thus far," the cable-network operator said.
Incentives and Subsidies
However, Free Press is warning the FCC not to simply choose to follow the wishes of the industries it regulates. "The national broadband plan should be designed around aspirations to particular social and economic outcomes, not the business models of the incumbent telecommunications carriers," Free Press Research Director Derek Turner advised.
The public-interest group is also calling on the FCC to reclassify broadband as a telecommunications service. "This will rationalize broadband policy, reduce arbitrage, and give the commission the tools required to promote competition through the reinstatement of network-sharing rules if a competition analysis indicates this is needed," Turner said.
Others have an eye on the $7.2 billion that the Obama administration has set aside for broadband development. "If we want to get broadband networks and high-speed Internet everywhere in this nation, it will probably require some carefully targeted incentives and subsidies from the federal government," said Comcast Executive Vice President David Cohen.
Comcast also wants to get the FCC to help boost adoption rates among households where cable service is available but which do not subscribe to broadband. "A concerted public effort to get Americans to use broadband is certainly something the government can accomplish through partnerships, including partnerships with the private sector," Cohen said.
Still, public-interest groups note that large segments of the population cannot afford broadband or don't have broadband services available to them that meet their needs. The Consumers Federation of America and Consumers Union are urging the FCC "to reach the obvious conclusion that the marketplace has not and will not achieve the goal of universal service and that competition does not and is not likely to solve the problem."
More Pro-Competitive Policies
The FCC "should not fool itself" into believing that the mere presence of two competitors is sufficient rivalry to ensure consumers will get the benefit of real competition, the Consumers Federation of America and Consumers Union said. "Because there are so few potential competitors left in the traditional wireline market, it will have to focus its attention on pro-competitive policies to revive competition on the platform and expand competition in the wireless space."
However, the Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association made it clear that it does not want the FCC to extend its forthcoming broadband policy to include wireless networks. "Nor should it adopt a nondiscrimination principle that will limit carriers' ability to ensure the innovation and quality consumers have come to expect from wireless service," the CTIA said.
On the other hand, the CTIA does want the FCC to reallocate additional spectrum to accommodate wireless broadband demand, which it says is rapidly outstripping the capacity available on networks.
"The simple answer is to provide certainty in the regulatory environment, certainty in terms of access to additional spectrum for commercial licensed services, and certainty in terms of the ability of carriers to site their towers and antennas," the industry association said.