22 March 2010

US - Pipe dream - Not what was asked for

A year ago, Congress asked for a plan that would provide affordable broadband service to all America's citizens. On March 16th, the Federal Communications Commission responded with a non sequitur: a national wireless plan which is good in its way, but which largely fails to tackle the problem it was asked to solve. There is much to like in the FCC's proposal. It proposes to auction a large chunk of radio spectrum that could be used to provide data to wireless devices, and to encourage existing licence-holders, in particular broadcasters, to auction or sell any capacity they are not using. It also frees up more spectrum for tinkering on unlicensed space. None of this, though, will do much to make broadband access universal or more affordable. Almost uniquely among OECD countries, America has adopted no policies to require the owners of broadband cables to open their infrastructure to rival sellers in order to enhance competition. America relies almost exclusively on "facilities competition", the provision of rival infrastructures: a cable provider may compete, for example, with a network that runs optical fibre to the home. See National Broadband Plan.