FCC Broadband Plan Outline Disappoints Competition Advocates

The Federal Communications Commission's initial outline of the National Broadband Plan to be presented to Congress in February draws sharp criticism for ignoring competition issues involving the duopoly of local cable and telephone companies.

The FCC (Federal Communications Commission) released Dec. 16 an outline of its preliminary National Broadband Plan to be delivered to Congress in 63 days. The initial plan calls for opening up the marketplace for cable set-top boxes and expansion of the Universal Service Fund.
The outline also states a "large, new spectrum allocation is essential to improving broadband
competition." Options being considered include a controversial plan to have broadcasters return some of their spectrum in exchange for a portion of the proceeds of a new spectrum auction.
"Encouragement of competition will be a guiding principle of the plan, since competition
drives innovation and provides consumer choice," the FCC said in a statement. "Finding ways to better use existing assets, including Universal Service, rights-of-way, spectrum and others, will be essential to the success of the plan. The limited government funding that is available for broadband would be best used when leveraged with private sector investment."
The scope of the plan immediately brought sharp criticism from the foremost advocates for more competition and open networks in the telecommunications market place, Public Knowledge and Free Press.
"There was no discussion of opening telecommunications networks to competitors. There was no discussion of structural separations of carriers into wholesale and retail components," Gigi B. Sohn, president and co-founder of Public Knowledge, said in a statement. "These are the factors that Harvard's Berkman Center told the FCC in a study a mere two months ago were the reasons other countries have surpassed ours - they are using policies we discarded."
Sohn added, "Competition is the key to increasing our broadband capacities, yet nothing in the outline presented this morning would increase competition. Reforming universal service and supporting municipal networks are worthwhile goals, but they would do nothing to reverse the slide caused by eight years of misbegotten telecommunications policies that have crippled most meaningful broadband competition for consumers."
Free Press Policy Director Ben Scott was equally critical of the initial plan.
"America's most basic broadband problem is that we are stuck with a duopoly of local cable and telephone companies that controls virtually every broadband market in America. The trend in both wireless and wireline broadband markets lead to more consolidation, not less," Scott said in a statement. "Where are the clear goals and benchmarks for bringing American consumers a world class network? The current marketplace will not magically leap forward to world class levels. There must be major policy intervention to get the country on track. We hope the FCC will present those ideas in the next update in January."