title: Will the bits ever make it home?


By: Scott Bradner


The Computer Science and Telecommunications Board of the National Academies of Science has produced yet another careful study of a currently relevant topic.  This time it is a study of the promises and difficulties inherent in the pursuit of wide-spread broadband deployment.  They conclude that it would be good to have but not easy to get there.


Like their previous endeavors, "Broadband: Bringing Home the Bits" is on the web (or at least a pre release version is) at http://books.nap.edu/books/0309082730/html/index.html.


The committee did not have an easy time, in no small part because the telecommunications world changed so much over the course of the year and a half or so that they worked.  The telcom world was a lot sunnier when they started than when they finished.


The committee came up with a number of "key questions" that needed to be addressed including: what is broadband, why do people need it, how much demand is there for broadband, how important and urgent is the development of broadband, what is the likely shape of broadband development in the coming years, is the pace of development reasonable and adequate or are there failures that necessitate intervention, how will broadband deployment be paid for, and how might the present policy regime for broadband be made more effective?  They do provide an answer, and sometimes more than one answer to these questions.


I have not yet read the whole report but in what I have read so far they seem to be just as puzzled on how a company can actually make money at being an Internet service provider.  They do warn that one tact that ISPs could take, getting into the content business and providing restricted semi-Internet services, would be counter to the aim of the flexibility inherent in today's Internet service.


One theme they come back to more than once is that whenever regulations are felt to be needed, we can disagree when they are actually needed, the regulations should be service not transport technology based.  What difference does it matter how e911 (emergency phone service that reports the caller location) is done as long as it provides the appropriate information, and why should regulations for coax cables be different just because it is coax?


They make seven specific recommendations some of which have subrecommendations.   I will not go through all of them, you will have to read the report for that, but a few of the recommendations are interesting.


In spite of all the furor in Washington they think it is too early to work on a universal service plan for broadband.  Its better to wait until we at least know what it is.  In one recommendation that is bound to be controversial they say that cable and phone infrastructures should be regulated in the same way and not by forced unbundling.


All in all an interesting piece or work, it would be good if the people that asked for it (the US government) would actually follow its guidance.


disclaimer: The US government does not even follow Harvard's guidance and the above book report is my own rambling.