Federal Communications Commission member Michael J. Copps contends, in an opinion piece appearing in the Washington Post, that the USA is falling behind other nations in the adoption and coverage of broadband connectivity.
Copps is absolutely right. For all the talk of broadband, the technology is far from pervasive among consumers or businesses in the United States. Other nations have greater levels of broadband penetration, and they generally pay less for greater levels of bandwidth.
What’s the problem? Copps says it’s lack of broadband competition, and he’s right again.
How have we fallen so far behind? Through lack of competition. As the Congressional Research Service puts it, U.S. consumers face a "cable and telephone broadband duopoly." And that’s more like a best-case scenario: Many households are hostage to a single broadband provider, and nearly one-tenth have no broadband provider at all.
For businesses, it’s just as bad. The telecom merger spree has left many office buildings with a single provider — leading to annual estimated overcharges of $8 billion. Our broadband infrastructure should be a reason companies want to do business in the United States, not just another reason to go offshore.
While Copps doesn’t claim to have "all the answers," he says the FCC must "start working to lower prices and introduce competition." He also proposes the following:
We must start meeting our legislative mandate to get advanced telecommunications out to all Americans at reasonable prices; make new licensed and unlicensed spectrum available; authorize "smart radios" that use spectrum more efficiently; and do a better job of encouraging "third pipe" technologies such as wireless and broadband over power lines. And we should recommend steps to Congress to ensure the FCC’s ability to implement long-term solutions.
Those are laudable proposals, especially the ideas of adding unlicensed spectrum (preferably at much higher bandwidths than today’s WiFi) and making it possible for utilities and others to compete with proven broadband-over-power-line technology.