Telecom industry’s broadband policy advice takes shape at FCC

by Steve Blum • , , ,

The Federal Communication Commission’s industry-centric broadband deployment advisory committee (BDAC) met again yesterday. I didn’t watch the day-long webcast, but I did read through the transcript. It was here, but will probably be gone from the FCC’s website by the time you read this. The version I downloaded is here.

The group signed off on tweaks to a proposed one touch make ready policy. If adopted by the FCC, it would create a fast track process for new broadband infrastructure to be attached to existing utility poles. BDAC members also reviewed wish lists of policies for state and local governments to follow.

The draft version of model state-level broadband policies and laws has some useful ideas, for example opening up multi-tenant buildings to all broadband providers and setting the minimum acceptable broadband standard at 25 Mbps download and 3 Mbps upload speeds. But it also has a distinct, anti-competitive bias when it comes to municipal broadband. The sub-committee that drafted it, which was dominated by industry with little representation from state or municipal interests, wants to create enough roadblocks to ensure that muni broadband systems are only built as an extreme last resort. If it’s eventually approved, expect to see cable and telco lobbyists waving it like a flag at committee hearings in Sacramento.

There are model polices for local governments on the table too. Some, such as right of way rules, are largely irrelevant to California – cities and counties here have little control over what telecoms companies install in the public right of way, and can’t charge for it. Others are familiar industry-centric boilerplate regarding permits for wireless facilities and access to publicly owned property. As someone who works with cities to develop these sorts of policies, I think it’s useful as source material – not everything wireless companies want is a bad idea – but it shouldn’t be taken as gospel either.

There’s dig once language, but it’s pretty tame. It only applies to new developments, and doesn’t put any obligations on incumbents to cooperate with cities or potential competitors when existing streets are opened up.

At this point, though, it’s all just a draft. The committee voted to send the model state and local policies to a third, “reconciliation” committee that will “harmonise” them. Which means everything is still up for grabs. As one committee member put it, “reconciliation can be whatever we want it to be”.