Public perception of broadband rights and dangers challenges regulators, industry

by Steve Blum • , , , , , ,

“Broadband has become to the 21st Century what electricity was the to last century,” said Amy Levine, a special counsel at the FCC and the legal advisor to the chairman, Jules Genachowski. That expectation of universal access was one of the major telecommunications policy drivers identified at the CTIA Enterprise & Applications show today in San Diego.

Levine joined with other regulators and industry representatives for a wide ranging discussion of what each expects from the other. There was general agreement, though, that consumers increasingly view broadband access as a right, “even if they live at the end of a dirt road,” as Maine state legislator Stacey Allen Fitz put it.

To meet that expectation, service providers have one of their own: subsidies. Each has its own particular view of how subsidy programs in particular and state and federal regulation in general should address building backhaul capacity, which is a major bottleneck for both rural and urban wireless network upgrades.

AT&T representative Len Cali, senior vice president for global public policy, said that rural broadband build outs are limited by spectrum and capital, and said that regulators should not be putting additional requirements on incumbent carriers like AT&T.

Incumbent carriers maintaining a controlling position as technology and markets change was a problem for Charles McKee, Sprint’s vice president for government affairs. His fear was that the same carriers that controlled copper networks will end up controlling fiber networks and the managed services that ride on top of them.

Another topic of discussion was the process, or lack thereof, for approving cell sites. An attempt by the FCC to speed up approval is mired in legal challenges. Local and state regulators are left to mediate complaints about the perceived danger posed by wireless facilities and devices.

“Those are real issues to the people that don’t understand the technology,” said Fitz, adding that the mobile phone industry helps feed the problem with lawyerly warnings on products.