A national broadband network would foster IPTV progress

Jim Barthold, FierceIPTVIt is remarkable that the United States still has no national broadband network (NBN). The idea has bubbled around like newt eyes in a witch's brew but it never gets progresses beyond PowerPoint slides before being packed away and carted to the next presentation.

Those who see an NBN as an example of big government using public funds to interfere with private enterprises miss the historical precedent. The United States encouraged privately run railroads to link its shores--the first national network. When those railroads abused their power, the same country used public funds to build roads and highways to compete with, and some would say, defeat them.

For many, a government-fostered national broadband network threatens the private firms that are allegedly cobbling together the pieces to connect every town and hamlet with high-speed broadband. Of course if those same private concerns were doing an adequate job, one could argue, no one would build a PowerPoint presentation on the benefit of a NBN.

I hadn't thought about a U.S. NBN for a while now, but a couple of recent international items pushed it back to my frontal lobe.

In Malaysia, StarHub, a cable operator with its own modern infrastructure, is using the country's next generation NBN to deliver IPTV services to commercial customers. It's a strange case. StarHub, when it acquired Singapore Cable Vision in 2002, promised incumbent telco Singapore Telephone that it wouldn't use its cable infrastructure to compete for small business customers. So, even though it passes multiple potential SMBs (small-medium businesses), all StarHub can do is wave and suggest alternative methods that generally include SingTel or some other costly proposal.

The cable company now has launched what it calls StarHub on Fibre, using IPTV and the country's NBN to deliver video entertainment services to SMBs. It is a novel way to get around a roadblock and a novel way to use a national broadband network. Oh, and it offers competitive pricing to SMBs that previously had few options.

In another part of the world, an Australian broadcaster is preparing to dip its toes into the IPTV space with a broadcast-to-broadband service. Seven West Media wants to expand its one-way broadcasts into the interactive world and plans to use a broadcast-to-broadband model and IPTV to accomplish it. The new offering will use what's called hybrid broadcast broadband TV (HbbTV) and--drum roll please--the Australia NBN.

In both cases, these are business plans that would not have existed without a national network on which to run them. In both cases, it's likely that both innovative companies and the consumers they serve will benefit from having access to a national broadband network.

Google Fiber (Nasdaq: GOOG)--which, depending on how you look at it, is either a harbinger of things to come or 1 gig overkill designed to embarrass the incumbents into jacking up their broadband offerings--is about the only comparable play I can think of in the U.S.

Google has lots of money, but it's not the Union Pacific Railroad and it's not going to build a coast-to-coast information superhighway. Neither, it seems, are any of the other so-called national providers who shrink into their regional shells when the idea of an NBN bubbles to the surface.

It's politically incorrect to suggest, but the NBN needs a government boost. Based on international evidence, an NBN would help companies--new and old--develop business plans that benefit both private enterprise and the public.--Jim