Draft report finds open access plays ‘core role’ in spreading broadband

By using a “multidimensional approach,” Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet & Society has created a metric for categorizing the relative success or failures of broadband deployments across the developed world. Among the “most surprising and significant findings” the draft says, is that “open access policies…are almost universally understood as having played a core role” in spreading broadband deployment.

The draft report, commissioned by the Federal Communications Commission, finds there are generally two definitions of “broadband,” in the context of planning the transition to next-generation broadband networks. The first generation is characterized by its emphasis on capacity, usually in terms of download speeds. Meanwhile the next generation is characterized by an ever-present, seamless connectivity. The draft says the next generation transition will see the “always on” feature of broadband typified in more ubiquitous terms of “just there” connectivity: “connecting anyone, anywhere, with everyone and everything, without having to think about it.”

By using broadband penetration, capacity and prices as indicators, the Berkman Center determined that the US is a middle-of-the-pack performer in most first generational broadband measures.

This report comes at the behest of FCC officials who are working to develop a roadmap for President Barack Obama’s vision of a National Broadband Plan. As part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, President Obama has mandated a detailed strategy for achieving and ensuring affordable universal broadband access for all citizens of the United States. Accompanying this vision is $7.2 billion in stimulus funds, currently being allocated to state and local agencies for broadband deployment.

berkman broadband study

Findings in the Berkman Center report will serve as a vital tool in understanding what approaches, strategies or plans have been used to effectively deploy broadband use. Especially relevant for some state and local broadband initiatives are findings related to the positive impact of open access regulation in other developed countries.

“[E]vidence suggests that transposing the experience of open access policy from the first generation transition to the next generation is playing a central role in current planning exercises throughout the highest performing countries,” the Berkman Center report states. Open access policies lower barriers to entry for providers and increase levels of competition, resulting in lower prices and higher performance for consumers, according to the draft report’s findings.

“The lowest prices and highest speeds are almost always offered by firms in markets where, in addition to an incumbent telephone company and a cable company, there are also competitors who entered the market, and built their presence, through use of open access facilities,” the report said.

The Berkman Center’s report is available for public review and researchers are hoping to illicit answers to lingering questions before submitting the final draft to the FCC. Questions include: Commission seeks comment on the following:

  • Does the study accomplish its intended purposes?
  • Does the study provide a complete and objective survey of the subject matter?
  • How accurately and comprehensively does the study summarize the broadband experiences of other countries?
  • How much weight should the Commission give to this study as it develops a National Broadband Plan?
  • Are additional studies needed along the lines of the Berkman study?
  • Please provide any other comments on the Berkman study that you deem relevant.

To view the full public notice, with directions on how to comment, see http://hraunfoss.fcc.gov/edocs_public/index.do?document=293955

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