Bay Area Council expert roundtable finds common ground on broadband challenges

18 May 2014 by Steve Blum
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A wide ranging conversation on Californian broadband development policy last week amongst a diverse collection of policy makers, academics, consultants and Internet businesses ended with broad, if not unconditional, agreement that making progress requires meeting four major challenges.

The first is extending the diversity and capacity of network connections that are clustered in the San Francisco Bay Area, coastal Los Angeles and, to a lesser extent, San Diego and Sacramento into smaller inland metro areas and rural communities. Second, new financing models are needed in order to attract investment – private and public sector – into both competitive broadband infrastructure and incumbent-owned networks that are being milked for short term profit rather than managed for long term sustainability.

I was on the task group that addressed the third challenge: easy access to existing conduit, poles and fiber and to right of ways and other public assets that can support new infrastructure development. Solutions revolved around the idea of uniform, rationalised rules such as model policies coordinated by organisations like the League of California Cities or adopted at the state level, modernised telecoms regulation – by 21st century function and not by 19th and 20th century legacy origins – and neutral, open access rules for telecoms assets, rather than the current impenetrable maze of rights and restrictions.

The final challenge was bringing together all the strands of California’s scattered broadband policy development and implementation into a coordinated statewide strategy.

The roundtable was organised by the Bay Area Council’s Economic Institute, as part of its 21st century infrastructure development project.