Broadband delayed is broadband denied

by Steve Blum • , , ,

FCC commissioner Ajit Pai objected to part of the FCC order approved last week that raised the minimum download speed for subsidised broadband projects to 10 Mbps (the upload standard remains at 1 Mbps). His objection wasn’t to the faster standard, but rather to the slow pace of implementation and what he sees as the commission’s failure to put its money where its mouth is

Three years ago, the FCC told rural Americans they could stop waiting. The Commission’s Universal Service Transformation Order created the Connect America Fund Phase II, which we anticipated would start paying for new broadband connections to unserved areas by January 1, 2013. Almost two years later, we’re finally launching that project. I wish we would have done so sooner—rural families and small businesses have already waited too long—but I’m glad nonetheless that we’re finally getting something done…

[Thursday’s order] raises the speed benchmark to 10 Mbps—the right call in my book—but then largely ignores that this change roughly doubles the expected costs of deployment. An appropriate counterweight would have been increasing the term of support from 5 years to 10, but the Order only increases it marginally, to 6. This imbalance needlessly risks tipping the scales against deployment, which may strand millions of Americans in broadband dead zones for years to come.

In the rapidly evolving and growing broadband world, taking 2 years just to start the clock running on a 5 to 10 year process is too long. It’s a problem shared by the California Public Utilities Commission: subsidies authorised by the California legislature in 2010 in most cases won’t produce working broadband systems until 2015 or 2016. Additional money approved in 2013 might be spent a little faster, but likely only by a year or so.

Nearly all that time was and will be consumed with preparing rules, accepting and reviewing applications and complying with environmental red tape. Actual construction time for most projects can be measured in weeks or a handful of months.

Slow implementation ultimately means slow broadband: by the time the infrastructure gets built, the standard it was designed to meet is out of date and insufficient.