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Today we are living through a technological revolution. Broadband and the ability to communicate at increasing speeds are increasing our productivity, helping drive our economy and affecting every aspect of daily life. As chairman of the US Federal Communications Commission, my priority is speeding the deployment of fibre infrastructure and broadband services.
Today, the FCC issues its most recent broadband development report, and we are closing in on President George W. Bush’s goal of providing broadband access to every US household. With 42.9m subscribers, the US has more people connected to broadband than any other country, and the report notes that the number of broadband subscribers continues to grow rapidly. Advanced services lines increased by 60 per cent in 2005. The report also indicates that about 91 per cent of those with access to cable television services have access to cable broadband and about 76 per cent of those with landline telephones have access to a residential DSL (digital subscriber line) service. All this means that more than 85 per cent of the country has access to cable, DSL or both.
America’s success in broadband deployment is often compared with that of other countries. That the US is behind countries such as Korea in Organisation for Economic Co-
operation and Development rankings, however, does not tell the full story. Given the geographic and demographic diversity of our nation, the US is doing exceptionally well. Comparing some of the “leading” countries with areas of the US that have comparable population density, we see similar penetration rates. For example, in Belgium, ranked eighth in broadband penetration by the OECD, there are about 343 inhabitants per sq km and 18 out of 100 people are broadband subscribers. In Japan, ranked 11th by the OECD, there are 350 inhabitants per sq km and 16 out of 100 people have broadband. These countries are comparable to Massachusetts where there are 317 people per sq km and 19 out of 100 people subscribe to broadband. Alaska, with less then one person per sq km, has a higher broadband penetration rate than France.
Today’s report for the first time also includes more detail about the “speeds” at which services are offered, better distinctions about the technologies used and more information about where and to whom broadband services are available. This is all aimed at enabling us to improve our policies to ensure that better and more diverse broadband options are available.
There is still more we can do to encourage competition and speed broadband deployment. We must ensure that government regulations do not unreasonably stifle further investment and market entry. The FCC has taken several steps to create a policy environment that encourages network providers to invest in further broadband deployment. Last summer, the commission deregulated DSL services. This decision allows broadband platforms to invest in their networks without having to provide their rivals with access at unfair discounts.
The commission also opened a proceeding to review whether cable franchise practices may act to delay unduly the deployment of competitive broadband and video networks. Most recently, the commission granted a petition for regulatory relief so that Verizon could further deploy its broadband services and fibre facilities without overly burdensome regulations. To give more Americans access to broadband, we need to encourage this kind of infrastructure investment, not discourage it with burdensome regulations.
Other carriers should also have opportunities to make similar investments in their networks. We must also ensure that additional spectrum – the airwaves used for wireless services – is made available for broadband deployment. In this environment of reduced economic regulation that will encourage investment, we must still ensure that public safety, law enforcement and consumer protection needs are met.
The commission is working to facilitate broadband throughout America. This country has a longstanding history of equal opportunity, an underlying value that once compelled us to work to connect everyone to the telephone network. Now it must mean providing the ability to connect with broadband. Since 2001 when I came to the commission, the number of high-speed lines has increased more than sixfold. We stand ready to tackle the remaining challenges to our goal of universal, affordable broadband access for all Americans.
The writer is chairman of the US
Federal Communications Commission