Sometimes we lose sight of what broadband means for so many different industries. As people become more and more immersed in their profession or hobby, broadband becomes a critical facilitator of that pursuit. The use of broadband is often compared to the introduction of electricity in the United States. Broadband is even being defined by policy makers as a necessity, in the same category as electricity, heat, and phone service.
We also understand the importance of broadband for public safety and telemedicine. An informed police officer can keep us safer, and electronic health records can help us stay healthier - by keeping the focus on prevention, and increasing the size of the medical team, by adding remote healthcare team members from virtually anywhere.
However, is is more difficult to measure the overall economic impact of the Internet, and everything that broadband access facilitates. Cisco coined the phrase "Internet of Everything," to describe an era where almost everything is connected to a vast array of applications, services and devices.
Cisco's definition of the Internet of Everything is "bringing together people, process, data, and things to make networked connections more relevant and valuable than ever before-turning information into actions that create new capabilities, richer experiences, and unprecedented economic opportunity for businesses, individuals, and countries."
While almost everyone agrees that an interconnected world world creates tremendous opportunities for innovation and economic development, there has been a wide range of estimates regarding the amount of economic development this would provide.
In a keynote speech delivered by Cisco CEO John Chambers at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas in early 2014, an estimate of $19 trillion would be realized by allowing devices and applications to communicate over the Internet."
In a recently released report enthusiastically embraced by the broadband provider community, American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research (AEI) concluded that the United States is leading the global broadband race. Specifically, the report counters previous assertions regarding European dominance in the broadband market.
The AEI report emphasizes the following points:
- Contrary to popular opinion regarding European dominance in broadband deployment, Europe's broadband system is highly fragmented and is in need of overall improvement.
- The American market-led approach of facilities-based competition has resulted in greater investment in next-generation broadband technologies. In fact, many European leaders are increasingly abandoning their regulatory approach and looking to the US broadband model.
- The European Union should simplify and reduce regulation of broadband providers, remove barriers to consolidation, and embrace a market-led, technology-neutral approach to broadband.
Undoubtedly, not everyone would agree with the conclusions reached in the report. Several previously published reports highlight the position of the United States with regard to global broadband rankings, available speeds, broadband adoption, competition, and pricing. U.S. Telecom used the AEI report to counter a New America report released in 2013:
More objective analysis of the broadband market has been previously reported by the FCC, NTIA, and the Pew Internet Research Center. The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) tracks various global broadband statistics and rankings.
In 2005, the FCC adopted a policy ascribing to the four principles of network neutrality.
This policy stated that consumers are entitled to:
- access the lawful Internet content of their choice.
- run applications and use services of their choice, subject to the needs of law enforcement.
- connect their choice of legal devices that do not harm the network.
- competition among network providers, application and service providers, and content providers.
After the Courts dealt the FCC a number of setbacks challenging both the rules and the underlying authority to govern broadband providers as a telecommunication service, the federal agency had to regroup and analyze the impact of the rulings. In 2010 FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski hoped that Congress would tackle the issue of net neutrality. With the House firmly under Republican control and a public stance largely against the issue, this didn't happen.
Fast forward to 2014 - with a new FCC Chair taking control of the agency. In a statement released by the FCC, Tom Wheeler outlined a series of next steps he wanted his fellow commissioners to take.
Not soon after Google announced that Austin, Texas would be the Internet giant's next metropolitan region to become a Google gigabit city, AT&T said it would also deploy an ultra-high speed broadband network. However, AT&T's offer came with a simple condition - that it would receive the same concessions and terms from local officials. Earlier this month a Google Fiber Project executive offered advice to municipalities seeking providers for gigabit networks:
The AT&T announcement was significant not for being a double gigabit city, but because the company was trying to emphasize how regulations encountered by traditional phone companies are a significant barrier to broadband deployment.
Silencing some analysts who were questioning whether Google was getting into the broadband business to increase overall Internet consumption, and not necessarily trying to compete with other broadband providers, the Internet giant announced plans to expand into 34 new markets.
Raleigh, North Carolina took Google's advice to become "fiber-ready" to heart - and even went a step further. In addition to courting Google to deploy a gigabit broadband network, Raleigh is also planning to build a fiber-optic broadband network for serving Triangle region schools and government institutions.
When Google announced the company's first Gigabit broadband network in Kansas City the benefits of ultra-fast Internet speeds were touted: "Over the past decade, the jump from dial-up to broadband has led to streaming online video, digital music sales, video conferencing over the web and countless other innovations that have transformed communication and commerce. We can't wait to see what new products and services will emerge as Kansas City moves from traditional broadband to ultra high-speed fiber optic connections."
Several recent news stories have focused on broadband related issues or companies delivered broadband service. One of these stories involved a merger between two of the largest cable and broadband companies in the United States. Comcast will acquire Time Warner Cable for $45 billion, in a deal which will create a huge force in the United States cable and broadband markets. The cable industry has been rapidly increasing its share of broadband consumers and cable television viewers. The combined Comcast/Time Warner company will have over 33 million cable subscribers, and nearly as many broadband customers.
However, the deal is not without its critics. Some consumer groups are against the new mega cable company, while others support deal. What is undisputed though is the terms of the deal will be scrutinized by federal regulators. Both Comcast and Time Warner estimate the deal will take less than a year to approve. Others say it will take longer because of the consumer issues which need to be assessed.
Comcast Pleads its Case for Acquiring Time Warner Cable:$45 billion deal will create largest U.S. cable and broadband company
One issue closely related to the Time Warner/Comcast merger is the issue of net neutrality, which recently was on center stage as Comcast and Netflix reached a deal to allow Netflix video traffic to stream to Comcast customer's devices at faster speeds. Netflix reached a similar agreement with Verizon earlier in the month.
In early February, President Obama visited Buck Lodge Middle School in Adelphi, Maryland to announce changes to the FCC's ERate program. According to a White House press release announcing the visit, Buck Lodge Middle School was selected as one of four Prince Georges County Public Schools to integrate tablets into the classroom through a program called the Transforming Education through Digital Learning project. Each student receives a tablet as a learning tool to allow access to digital instructional content. The school also leverages two computer labs to round out its technology education.
President Obama said the following during his visit:
"Now, here at Buck Lodge, you are showing how we can use technology to teach our young people in innovative ways. And by the way, the principal told me that part of how this got started was some of the stimulus dollars that we put in place almost five years ago now. But every student here has access to their own iPad. And you don't just write papers or take tests; they're animating movies, they're designing blogs, they're collaborating on multimedia projects. In the world of an 8th grader, Annie Gomez, she says, "You can learn even more, you can take in more, and then you know more about the world."
In addition to doubling the size of its existing E-Rate fund to connect U.S. schools to high speed broadband connections, President Obama also announced several partnerships with tech companies to solve the broadband connectivity problem in schools, and ensure that schools have sufficient access to technology.
The E-Rate fund is part of the FCC's universal service fund dedicated to bringing broadband Internet connections to schools and libraries. President Obama committed to connecting 99% of all schools within 5 years.
According to the fact sheet from The White House:
The ConnectED initiative would jump-start the effort to connect American students to today's modern broadband connections, and help them keep pace access across the country.
• Upgraded Connectivity: The ConnectED initiative will, within five years, connect 99 percent of America's students, through next-generation broadband (at speeds no less than 100Mbps and with a target of 1Gbps) to, and high-speed wireless within, their schools and libraries. The President is calling on the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to modernize and leverage the existing E-Rate program, and leverage the expertise of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) to deliver this connectivity to states, districts, and schools.
• Leveling the Playing Field for Rural Students: Rural communities will experience some of the greatest benefits of new education technologies, as ConnectED will help provide new learning opportunities to level the playing field for rural students. The Universal Service Fund has been transformative in the past twenty years providing rural communities with telephone services, and now broadband. The Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP) has helped us connect under-served community anchor institutions. ConnectED builds on those efforts, with greater returns for communities finding it difficult to attract broadband investment.
Widely credited with helping to significantly expand Internet access in Schools and Libraries, the FCC E-rate program has been due for an overhaul for awhile. Senator John D. Rockefeller (D-WV) recently announced his desire to expand access to the program while increasing broadband speeds in schools and libraries.
In the first year E-Rate was available Internet access was available in slightly over half of public schools. That percentage has climbed to over 94%. The FCC program has resulted in 48,000 applications seeking over $5.2 billion in funding for schools and libraries in 2012.
President Obama recently hinted at ERate reform in his State of the Union address, and the White House framed up the problem of broadband access in schools like this:
"Driven by new digital technologies, the future of learning is increasingly interactive, individualized, and full of real-world experiences and information. Unfortunately, the average school has about the same connectivity as the average American home, but serves 200 times as many users, and fewer than 20 percent of educators say their school's internet connection meets their teaching needs. And our teachers do not get enough training and support to integrate technology in their classroom and lessons, despite the fundamental and increasing importance of those skills."
The Federal Communications Commission today launched a broad set of voluntary experiments meant to ensure that the nation's communications networks continue to provide the services consumers want and need in this era of historic technological transformations.
The FCC said the action was driven by developments in the marketplace, technology transitions in communications networks are already well underway. They include, for example, the transition from plain old telephone service delivered over copper lines to feature-rich voice service using Internet Protocols, delivered over coaxial cable, fiber, or wireless networks.
The FCC also listed four fundamental values which should be preserved during this technological transitions:
- Public safety communications must be available no matter the technology
- All Americans must have access to affordable communications services
- Competition in the marketplace provides choice for consumers and businesses
Consumer protection is paramount
In addition to the FCC action, a report published by RNCOS analyzes telemedicine trends over the past six years:
Earlier this month the U.S. Court of Appeals said the FCC had the legal authority to regulate broadband access but failed to demonstrate that it has a mandate to impose the anti-discrimination rules on broadband providers.
The Obama Administration reasserted its support of the FCC in statement from the White House:
"The President remains committed to an open Internet, where consumers are free to choose the websites they want to visit and the online services they want to use, and where online innovators are allowed to compete on a level playing field based on the quality of their products."
Read more about Net Neutrality: