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The FCC and fast bits


By Scott Bradner


This column is a continuation of last week's column on the new FCC report on the deployment of advanced telecommunications services to all Americans.  In the interim, the FCC has implied that it will soon remove some regulations that applied to the RBOCs that once seemed critical to the rapid deployment of high-speed Internet service.


I do have a real problem with one thread that runs throughout the FCC report. ( )  The Commission only talks about the availability of 200Kbps in the connection to the user.  It ignores the fact that this often does not mean 200 Kbps to or from the Internet - all too often Internet connections are very badly oversubscribed and the effective rate is no better than a dial-up modem.  I have been told of DSL providers that oversubscribed the link from the DSL multiplexer to their backbone by more than 200 to one, worse than that which occurs in most cable modem situations.  It would be much more useful if the definition of bandwidth availability included some understanding of the probability that the bandwidth would be there when someone tried to use it.


The Commission report also underplays the role of cost -- it is hard to find the one paragraph in the report where they point out that only 12% of people asked were willing to pay $40/mo for advanced services. Since most advanced services cost more than that it is hard to see widespread uptake.  Congress's stated goal is the deployment of advanced telecommunications services to <ITAL>all</ITAL> Americans.  Deploying the service at a price that few are willing to pay is little different than not deploying it at all and could hardly be meeting Congress's goal "in a reasonable and timely manner" even though that is what the FCC concludes is happening.


On Feb 14th the FCC announced that it had tentatively concluded that high-speed Internet access provided by telephone companies (i.e., DSL) should not be regulated like normal telephone service.  If the FCC finalizes this opinion then the telephone companies will not have to open up their infrastructures to third parties to use in providing alternative high-speed Internet service.  At one point in the past this type of access was seen as critical to getting high-speed services deployed since the phone companies have never been seen as hot beds of innovation, particularly when it might cannibalize  their existing service offerings. But the FCC is now proposing to change the rules in the name of promoting "widespread deployment" of high-speed Internet services.  While symbolically important this change may not make much real difference since a small fraction of DSL service is currently being provided under the old rules.


Yogi Berra playing Yogi Berra at a recent talk said "the future is not what it once was."  The FCC's action will certainly change the future. It will be interesting to read the next FCC report to see how it did.


disclaimer:  Harvard often changes the future but has not commented on the FCC report i.e. the above opinion is my own.