Cable Technology Feature Article
The Real Broadband Issue
America’s foundering economy is in dire need of the benefits of high-speed communications networks. First, the deployment of these systems means jobs, as acknowledged by President Obama, including union jobs with healthcare and benefits.
Second, the entrepreneurial benefits for small businesses and individuals is limitless. These advanced links help U.S. businesses maintain their efficiency and global reach in the face of companies overseas who benefit from government-subsidized broadband.
Finally, the spread of affordable broadband choice offers remarkable new opportunities in our daily lives, and is quickly becoming an essential tool for American consumers. For example, it allows for boundless opportunities from real-time diagnoses of vital signs, which can save a lengthy and costly trip to the hospital - to distance education for those living in remote areas of the country.
Against this backdrop, it is disappointing that The New York Times viewed the issue of broadband Internet through the distorting lens of campaign finance in its June 29 editorial “The Price of Broadband Politics.” If criticizing Members of Congress who oppose Net neutrality (News - Alert) regulation solely on the basis of their acceptance of campaign contributions from companies that oppose new rules is the path to take, then such criticism should also be directed to Members of Congress in support of new regulation, who have also taken campaign contributions from the large Internet companies and content providers like Google (News - Alert).
That’s why it is worth note that the Sunlight Foundation – which The Times cited in its editorial – has received nearly $100,000 from net neutrality supporter Google during the past two years. A Google executive also serves on Sunlight’s (News - Alert) Board. So what does this say about Sunlight’s impartiality?
A far better and more commonsensical approach to examining the debate over broadband regulation in Washington would be to look at the net neutrality issue on its merits, especially its impact on America’s top Internet priority: improving the availability of affordable broadband. The fact is that net neutrality would take America a giant step back from affordable Internet service because the policy would prohibit carriers from managing their communications networks efficiently and would risk consumer experience due to unnecessary network congestion. That, in turn, would drive up costs.
Some net neutrality proponents argue that this will never happen because the per-unit cost of broadband service is steadily declining, as routing technology improves and better compression ratios allow for faster processing of data. Up to a point, this is correct but it is also not enough to overcome the current surge in broadband usage, primarily driven by people streaming and downloading video.
This is why the “just keep building and all will be fine” argument from net neutrality partisans falls flat. To see why, take a look at what happened in South Korea last year. That nation has some of the most advanced communications infrastructure in the world. Fiber to the residence is ubiquitous and average download speeds run about four times as fast as in the U.S.
But look what happened last fall when the iPhone (News - Alert) finally came to that country.
According to a report this spring from Akamai Technologies, which monitors Internet developments around the world, the sudden crush of iPhone usage in South Korea slowed the country’s average Internet speeds by 24 percent.
The lesson for policymakers: No matter how much capacity America’s communication companies deploy, there is no substitute for a well-managed network system. Even the vaunted South Korea networks couldn’t handle the onslaught of user data generated by the iPhone.
Net neutrality has been likened to the solution in search of a problem and with communications technology changing at light speed, the idea of subjecting it to preemptive regulation is mind-boggling.
This spring, Cisco Systems (News - Alert) unveiled an improved carrier routing system that can download 322 terabytes per second. Time necessary to download the contents of the entire Library of Congress? About 5 seconds.
This is the kind of technology America needs if we are to match the speeds and ubiquity of other nations’ service. It will only happen in a regulatory climate that encourages and promotes high-speed services, not one that ties deployment down in subjective regulation.
Jorge Bauermeister is a former Commissioner of the Puerto Rico Telecommunications Regulatory Board, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico’s agency in charge of establishing and enforcing the island’s telecommunications and cable television public policies.
During his tenure as a commissioner, he was an active member of the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners’ (NARUC) Telecommunications, International Relations and Consumer Affairs Committees. In 2005, he was appointed by President Marilyn Showalter as Chairman of the Consumer Affairs Committee.
Since 2005, Bauermeister has been practicing law with his own firm in San Juan Puerto Rico, focusing on telecommunications, cable and Internet law.
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Edited by Stefania Viscusi