FCC discusses broadband: the job is a big one

Around the time I submitted a
on the White House’s open government dialog site for
local forums to implement high-speed networks, the
FCC released a

77-page report (in PDF format)

that casts some light on the proposal. Their report, titled “Bringing
Broadband to Rural America: Report on a Rural Broadband Strategy,”
covers a huge range of ground (and retells a lot of standard stories,
including the reasons for universal service in broadband and a history
of public infrastructure efforts). Some of the impressions I got
relevant to local forums are:

  • Calls for cooperation between government and “community and local
    advocacy groups.” These seemed to be defined as coalitions
    representing particular populations, such as minorities and the
    disabled. The report did not explicitly suggest, as my proposal does,
    that everyone within a relevant geographic area be invited to the

  • A recognition that conditions in different areas vary widely. The FCC
    report mentions such conditions as population density, weather
    patterns, and income levels. Although fairly long, this section came
    nowhere near covering the complex collection of issues that
    communities have to take into account (my own proposal lists a few
    others). I believe that expert and local residents working together
    can iron out the needs of the community.

  • An appeal for more information, particularly mapping. The report
    mentions a Congressional bill providing funding for that information.
    (This bill has been criticized, as mentioned in a comment to my

    previous posting on the local forum proposal
    But the task of accumulating the information needed to make
    cost-efficient network decisions is huge. To my mind, the task calls
    again for collaboration among residents.

    As an example of what residents could do, consider companies that
    provide data to web sites about response time and availability. To
    obtain this data, the companies have to visit the sites from many
    locations around the world; some companies have even contracted with
    ordinary Internet users to run these tests. Crowdsourcing can make
    everyone with an Internet connection a data provider.

The report suggests a number of policy changes that will facilitate
network development. But it’s clear that this country is very far from
a plan that brings broadband to everyone. The job’s too big; that’s
why I say communities have to take things into their own hands.

So check my proposal again. A few relevant paragraphs from the FCC
report follow.

(pp. 29-31)

67 …in order to be successful in coordinating existing federal
programs concerning rural broadband or rural initiatives, it is
critical that the federal government collaborate and coordinate with
community and advocacy organizations in rural areas.

68 We know that community and local advocacy groups are an essential
component to the success of deploying broadband in rural areas.
Further, public-private partnerships can play a critical role in
bringing broadband to rural areas. Community and advocacy groups and
public-private partnerships can function as valuable information
sources for local communities, businesses, and consumers in rural
areas, and various groups have developed guidance on how to deploy
broadband in those areas. For example, the Commonwealth of Virginia
has produced an online “Community Broadband Tool-Kit” that provides
step-by-step guidance on how a community can deploy broadband
services. This tool-kit has information on broadband applications and
case-studies from Virginia localities that have successfully deployed
broadband facilities. Another group, called Connecting Rural
Communities, publishes a guidebook that explains in detail how to
bring broadband services to rural communities. The Michigan Department
of Information Technology has released its own “Action Plan for
Deploying Broadband Internet to Michigan Local Governments,” which
similarly details how developing goals is essential for building a
broadband network.

69 The federal government should collaborate with these organizations
and ones like them to fully understand the challenges in deploying
broadband in rural areas and develop solutions that overcome those
challenges. We suggest that the federal government continue to take a
leadership role alongside individuals, groups, businesses and other
governmental organizations seeking to fit together all the pieces
needed to bring state-of-the-art broadband services to rural areas.

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