FCC staffers lay out facts on broadband


Statistics. Yesterday’s FCC meeting is all about stats, tons of them, both describing the broadband situation now and how it should be in the future. The decisions will come later. That was the gist of the Broadband Task Force report at yesterday’s FCC Open Meeting for September.

The members of the Task Force acknowledged from the outset that everything they say and do at this point is open to question – in fact, questions and other forms of input is welcome, particularly input supported by data.

Data was the central theme of the meeting.

The task the five commissioners will face, according to the Task Force, is taking all this data and using it as a foundation for broadband policy that will stand the test of time.

The goal of universal deployment and adoption of broadband by all US citizens was pretty much taken as a given. It was pointed out that the internet is now ubiquitous enough that lack of access can hurt citizens trying to do something as basic to survival and success as get a job.

At its most basic, the commissioners will have to decide what the average internet user should be able to do on the internet. That in turn will determine what kind of web infrastructure will be needed and how much investment will be required.

If the commissioners decide that access to email is all they expect, the requirements will be modest. They suggested it is much more likely that two-way technologies requiring fast upload and download as well as high fidelity is what will be needed to keep the US competitive with other nations, and the investment needed will be considerable.

They emphasized repeatedly that it is important to study current internet usage thoroughly, but it will be equally if not more important to draw lines from now to uses in the near and distant future, with full knowledge that the infrastructural we build now will have to far exceed current needs.
The task force released this list of key areas of inquiry:

* Healthcare: Electronic health records, telemedicine, and mobile monitoring result in better, more affordable health care, but the record shows a need for higher connectivity in many locations to capture those benefits

* Energy and the environment:  Enabled by broadband, smart grids, smart homes and smart transportation will be a critical part of our clean energy future

* Government operations and civic engagement: Delivery of services, civic engagement, transparency in public policy can all be improved by broadband access and adoption

* Education: Over 70 percent of all high school students use the Internet as a primary source for homework.  Digital textbooks, online learning, teacher support and communications, digital student records can improve weak U.S. educational outcomes.  While the E-rate program has connected schools, faster speeds are needed

* Disabilities: Internet use usage among people with disabilities is less than half that of the general population.  Networks, equipment, services, devices and software are not designed to be accessible to people with disabilities.  Accessibility is also lacking in Internet content, interfaces, programming guides and menus, and tech support

* Consumer welfare: Consumers say online purchases save time and money.  Yet 39% have strong worries about giving out personal or credit card information.  These worries are heightened among low-income users, only 29% of whom have made purchases online, compared to 82% of upper income users.  More transparency in billing and the on-line environment could ease security concerns, as could education and consumer workshops on privacy and security

* Public Safety: Public safety entities only have access to commercial broadband services. There are no mobile, wireless broadband communications services that meet the public safety community’s specialized needs.  These services should be provided over time

* Economic Opportunity:  As of 2005, over 77 percent of Fortune 500 companies posted jobs and accepted applications solely online.  An ever-increasing majority of employees are required to use the Internet in their daily work.

RBR/TVBR observation: February 17th is the day the Task Force report is due to be unveiled. And then the real fun should begin. We have to say the initial assumptions and options they laid out made a lot of sense. But there will be a long road getting from where we are now to the rapid-fire, readily available internet of our dreams.