Thursday, April 13, 2006

How Do We Get to Ubiquitous Broadband?

I attended a Municipal Wifi Forum today at the OSU College of Law. It was targeted toward students but thanks to Casey Lide tipping me off I was able to attend. There were 2 speakers, both past OSU Law grads... Casey Lide of the Baller Herbst Law Group and Andy Emerson of Porter Wright. Background is that Casey has represented municipalities in wifi and fiber to the home initiatives while Andy has represented AT&T. Important to note that at the beginning of his presentation, Casey suggested the discussion not be limited to wifi but also include fiber to the home.

OK, most important piece of the discussion to me... broadband roll out ... who gets it... who doesn't. Casey suggested one reason for municipalies to get involved in wifi/fiber deployment is since they are governments, they cannot cherry pick which neighborhoods will receive the service. Municipal broadband serves all, not just the wealthy areas. This is in contrast to telecoms who do redline in order to maximize profit. Casey refered to the now infamous SBC slide that states SBC's Project Lightspeed (think video capabilities) will cover nearly 90% of the high value customers, 70% of medium value customers and 5% of low value customers. During his presentation Casey said that AT&T/SBC has now backed off of this. I don't know if this means they have changed their plan or if they are just not talking about it. I'm familar with the slide as I referenced it in my testimony to the Public Utilities Commision of Ohio in the AT&T/SBC Merger Case. Ah, don't get me started on what a high value or medium value custumer is or isn't...

So, what was Andy's response? Investors. We must keep the investors happy. He did say that after the initial investment was covered by targeting the high profit areas first, AT&T would then expand the network. That they are committed to serving they entire community. But really, what would make them do this on their own? If there is no regulation would a company beholden to investors willingly give up profits in order to do the right thing, to expand the network to less profitable neighborhoods? When it recognized that the telephone was becoming a necessary part of modern life, government stepped in to ensure telephone lines were available everywhere. If left to the telephone companies to get around to all neighborhoods, do we really think folks in Appalachia would have phone lines today? We cannot rely on the goodwill of the ISPs. Broadband is too important.

The ISPs are part of the solution. But so also are municipal networks, community networks, state and federal investment, and utilization of state owned networks. If we truly want low cost broadband available everywhere we need to be welcoming all networks into the mix as additonal competition. We're a capitalist society. We love competition.


At 12:27 AM, Blogger Jeff_Mills said...

I don't know. I think incentives are always a better route than regulation. Incentives will give you what's needed while maintaining the integrity of ... whatever private sector is utilized. Regulation discourages growth in most industries. A healthy incentive structure and regulations where necessary would be my solution if I were president. Vote for me, Hillary Duff.


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