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FCC lays the ground work to dig the U.S. out of the broadband backwater

The U.S. is one of the most advanced and wealthy countries in the world, yet when it comes to broadband access in more rural areas of the country we lag well behind other nations. Citizens in the UK have access to better broadband speeds, as do other countries.

Here in America we are stuck with peak speeds for broadband in many areas that are but a fraction of the lowest speeds seen in other countries. This week the Australian government announced a sweeping plan that would see the investment of billions in government funds to build a nationwide fiber optic broadband network serving 90% of the homes in the country.

Wired reports that the U.S. government is now in talks to develop a national broadband plan. The FCC has been betting on the vacated analog wireless spectrum currently used by TV broadcast to deliver broadband to most homes in the country. The big issue with that plan is that the major winners, AT&T and Verizon, are notorious for strapping such low bandwidth caps on their offerings as to make them unusable to many.

Wired reports that the FCC has a year to survey the nation's internet infrastructure and recommend a plan either to start building a nationwide network or to leave things as they are. President Obama has a nationwide network in mind, as evidenced by the $7.2 billion that was allocated to extend broadband to underserved rural areas.

As often happens in the U.S. government, rather than action and progress the funds have been stuck in a debate over what “underserved and rural” actually defines. The AFP reports that the FCC is seeking input from industry, business, non-profits, and governments federal, state, and local. The different entities have until February 17, 2010 to report to Congress.

Among the aspects the plan is said to be considering are broadband supply and demand; quality and affordability; and problems, threats, or vulnerabilities to the proposed network. Also being examined is how broadband will affect civic participation, public safety, homeland security, community developments, health care delivery, energy independence, and education.

FCC Chairman Michael Copps said, "Today, we commence a national dialogue on how we as a nation can make high-speed broadband available, affordable and easily useable to citizens and businesses throughout the land. This Commission has never, I believe, received a more serious charge than the one to spearhead development of a national broadband plan."

The AFP reports that America trails Japan, Sweden, South Korea, France, Germany, and Canada in broadband quality and subscription rates per capita. One of the key elements under discussion is the speed of the network. Median speeds for broadband access in the U.S. are under 5 Mbps whereas median speeds in Japan are 63 Mbps and in South Korea it's 49 Mbps.

The FCC defines broadband today as connections offering at least 786 Kbps. However, groups such as the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF) are seeking speeds on the network of between 10 Mbps and 50 Mbps.

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Welcome to the Digital Desert
By guzzisport on 4/10/2009 9:03:38 AM , Rating: 2
I live 3 miles out of a rural town. Modem speeds for my neighborhood are 11K. I have HughesNet satellite. On the basic package, HughesNet costs $60/month. Bandwidth is about 100K/sec for the first second, 50K for the second second decreasing to 7-15K/sec after about 30 seconds. 100Mb download limit in a 24 hour window. Exceed that, and you get throttled to 1K/sec for 24-29 hours. Hughes throttles the bejeesus out of every connection except SpeedTest which will rip along at a respectable 389K/sec. Three years ago, it wasn't uncommon to catch a 4000Kb/sec stream but now it seldomes exceeds 51K/sec. Hughes apparently has changed policy or has so many customers that the bandwidth per customer has eroded to the level of a mediocre modem connection. At the same time, my only local phone provider (AT&T) has upped the cost of a separate land line to the point where a dedicated modem line would cost the same as the admittedly poor HughesNet access, so I'm basically stuck until the FCC establishes standards for smoke signals. Oh, and if you're on a satellite, the time for a "click" includes transit time up to the satellite, back to earth, out to the internet, back up to the satellite and back down to your home. Figure latency of better than 4 seconds. Satellite sucks. Massively. It also doesn't work when weather conditions are poor. By comparison, a good modem connection has quite a bit more leverage than it did a couple of years ago. Consider it a technological backslide. The digital divide in the USA is quite large and NONE of the major cable or phone carriers have any desire to change the set up. They have a captive market plus the infrastructure upgrade cost is too high. If you're not where you can get good cell coverage, even wireless cell coverage is not an option. Carriers will continue to compete heavily in areas where revenue return is high in the more densely populated urban centers. The rural areas will likely only improve as a function of cell phone coverage and expanded services in that service sector. This doesn't even address the politics of having a captive market so I don't anticipate that ANY plan that the FCC or Congress have will change anything except the level of funds in the account paying for the "research". As I said, welcome to the Digital Desert.

RE: Welcome to the Digital Desert
By phxfreddy on 4/10/2009 9:54:46 AM , Rating: 2
I feel for you but it would be nice to have private companies instead of government doing all this. For this to happen the FCC would have to be stop being a diddle doll for politicians money interests. That is to say they use the FCC to gate who can do what and when.

I suspect if this were not being done you all in BF_Egypt would have had your hi speed by now.

RE: Welcome to the Digital Desert
By MadMan007 on 4/10/2009 5:52:55 PM , Rating: 2
Undoubtedly this money will be used for government oink-oink contracts to certain companies. I just hope someone is smart enough to have learned from the Telecom Act of 1996 and penalties or more proper incentive is included. As for the FCC, between the crackdown on Comcast selective throttling and things like this lately they've been shaping up to be a lot better than they were through 2006 & the neocons.

RE: Welcome to the Digital Desert
By MadMan007 on 4/10/2009 5:57:13 PM , Rating: 2
I need to add a second sentence 'So it will be done by private companies, they just had no incentive to do so before.'

RE: Welcome to the Digital Desert
By xanthyr on 4/10/2009 2:13:56 PM , Rating: 2
Ouch. Think I found someone who's dial-up speeds are worse than mine.

I live 40 mins from the 4th largest city in the US. I live 6-7 miles from a decently sized city. What do I have for internet? 26.4Kbs dial-up connection.

Cable or DSL? Ha. Not available, at all. Wireless ISP? Can't get a decent signal, though I live around 4 miles from the closest tower. Cellphone internet? 5GBs a month for $60? If I go over the cap by accident, I'm paying for every byte. And that's if I can get a decent signal. Pass. Satellite? Too cost prohibitive because you have pay for the dish too. Not only that I'm not going with HughesNet with all I heard about them.

I doubt this talk with the FCC is going to go anywhere, but hey, better than nothing right now. Maybe we'll see something of it in...oh 2012?

By SnakeBlitzken on 4/10/2009 4:47:52 PM , Rating: 2
I'm in the same boat with you. AT&T DSL is 2 miles from my house and not coming out any time in the near future. There are two wireless companies that are serving this area and cannot keep up with demand. One is priced higher than the other but that is becuase they were the only game in tow for long time. I suspect the pricing will have to get competive since these two providers will overlap the same consumers. The US is usually lagging in areas like this because we were first. We get chained to antiquated legacy technology, politics and standards. If we were building an infrastructure brand new today, things would be a lot different. We're still suffering from the Ma Bell monopoly days of who owned the cable.

At least we have competition now with wireless. I'm still waiting my turn in line to get off my crappy wireless aircard on the Edge network.

RE: Welcome to the Digital Desert
By sleepeeg3 on 4/13/2009 4:59:11 PM , Rating: 2
If it sucks to live in the digital desert so much - move. You also probably pay less for housing and less property taxes. Gee I want my apartment rates to be cheaper - when is the government going to start giving me free money to pay for my housing? Now do you see how ridiculous your argument is?

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