we might actually get real telecom policy

Via the wired blog: Net Neutrality Advocates In Charge Of Obama Team Review of FCC.

The two people appointed are Susan Crawford and Kevin Werbach.

They ‘get it’ – they understand that the US is a broadband backwater, that the current telecom policies only work to fatten the bank accounts of the big telecom players, and that high speed internet access is just like water, sewage, and electricity: it’s a utility, and should be treated as such.

I have high hopes for the FCC under the new administration. If they are going to set up rules that will actually advance broadband penetration and foster competition, the US could finally see some real innovation in telecom land. Who knows – we might get cheap, fast and unencumbered broadband after all. This will of course take years, but things in the US can change quickly if there is (political) will…

Some concrete steps I would take (not in any particular order):

* Set up policies to encourage customer-owned last mile

* Split up the big telcos and cable companies in an infrastructure and a services company each. The infrastructure companies will roll out and maintain the physical local access networks, and charge ISPs for access to them – but there will be no preferential treatment for any of them, and pricing and service levels will be heavily regulated and monitored to avoid abuse. Basically, this is a return to the unbundling of the local loops as it used to exist in the US for copper telephone wire, before Verizon and co pushed the CLECs out of business by lobbying for bad laws and pricing them out of the market. Of course the same rules need to apply to the cable networks, and to the fiber networks that are being rolled out. Unbundling is very much alive in large parts of Europe, and it works well there.

* Make it easier to roll out infrastructure. There needs to be a much more uniform legal framework for access to utility poles and digging up road to install new networks. Right now most of these rules are set at the municipality level, and the legal patchwork that results is very difficult and expensive to navigate.

* Encourage the installation of utility pipes or tunnels which can have new wiring blown through them much more cheaply, without digging up the roads every time. Germany has been doing this for decades – why can’t we?

* Get back those $200 billion in subsidies and tax breaks that were handed out to the big telcos for rolling out a next generation network – which they never did. That money needs to come back, with interest. The federal government can certainly use it right now.

* Enforce network neutrality. It’s very simple – the network needs to be stupid, the endpoints smart. That’s how you foster innovation. And as to the “the pipes will clog – people won’t be able to watch tv on the internet – the sky will fall!” fallacy: there is a very simple solution to that problem. Fatter pipes. If we had real broadband here (100Mbit+ to the home) and properly designed networks (bring down overcommits to a more reasonable level), this would not be a problem. Would it cost money to roll these networks out and keep upgrading them? Sure. But equipment cost would come down quickly as purchase volume goes up and mass production kicks in, that’s basic market economics… And sane government policies can help here, too.

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