FCC report cites 'significant' broadband deployment progress; more work needed

The eighth edition of the FCC Broadband Progress Report contained good news and bad news for U.S. citizens who want better broadband access to the Internet. The good news is that "the nation has made significant progress expanding high-speed Internet access in recent years," the bad news is that 19 million Americans still lack access, the report, released Tuesday, said.

The FCC also pointed out that 14.5 million people--about one fourth of the population of rural areas--lack broadband access and nearly one third of the population in tribal areas have no access.

An FCC news release noted that "until the Commission's Connect America reforms are fully implemented, these gaps are unlikely to close. Because millions still lack access to or have not adopted broadband, the report concludes broadband is not yet being deployed in a reasonable and timely fashion."

The Internet Innovation Alliance took issue with FCC assertions that the government needs to do more or the private sector hasn't done enough, issuing a statement that "contrary to the FCC's assertions, more government control over the telecommunications industry with new rules is absolutely not a prerequisite for closing the digital divide--in fact, fixed regulations are inherently inimical to the competitive, innovative, rapidly-changing reality of modern telecommunications. Instead, the FCC and policy makers need to adopt a more flexible approach that is humble in scope and recognizes the fast-paced, innovative environment in which industry operates.

The IIA added that "most new regulatory initiatives of the past five years have hindered innovation and high-tech leadership, whereas deregulatory efforts have helped them."

On a more positive note, the IIA statement did agree with FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski that "there is more work to do."

In his written statement , Genachowski said he appreciated the "huge strides that both the private and public sector have made to extend broadband" but that the job is hardly finished. "Some look at the progress that's being made and say, 'Mission Accomplished.' I disagree."

Genachowski pointed to data that showed fewer than 70 percent of Americans have subscribed to fixed broadband even with speeds as low as 768 Kbps. As for higher speeds, he noted, "the upgrade of cable infrastructure to DOCSIS 3.0 technology means that more than 80 percent of Americans have access to networks technically capable of 100 Mbps or more. But our data show that just 27 percent of Americans are being offered broadband services at those speeds today, and U.S. prices for these higher speed services exceed many other countries."

From the glass-half-full perspective, Genachowski conceded that steps taken by the FCC, including the Connect America Fund and its continued push on the Broadband Acceleration Initiative and National Broadband Plan have "laid out clear rules on the road to protect the openness of the Internet, promoting a virtuous cycle of innovation, investment and competition."

Still, he said, the job for both the Commission and the telecom industry is far from over.

"We can't let up on our efforts to unleash the benefits of broadband for every American. Increasing broadband deployment, increasing adoption, increasing speeds and capacity are vital throughout our country; they're essential to growing our innovation economy and driving our global competitiveness," he wrote.

For more:
- see this news release
- and this statement
- and this statement statement

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