FreePress, January 23, 2013
Last week, Federal Communications Commission Chairman Julius Genachowski extolled the virtues of “gigabit” broadband:
Making sure the U.S. has super-fast, high-capacity, ubiquitous broadband networks delivering speeds measured in gigabits, not megabits, isn’t just a matter of consumer convenience, as important as that is. It’s essential to economic growth, job creation and U.S. competitiveness.
Make no mistake: If the U.S. doesn’t continue to invest in our broadband infrastructure, somebody else will take the lead.
He noted that communities with gigabit networks are busy attracting businesses and startups. Take Chattanooga, Tenn., where the super-swift network “has helped attract businesses like Amazon and Volkswagen, creating more than 3,700 local jobs.” A few other communities around the country have done the same — mostly because they built their own municipal networks.
Genachowski said these “gigabit test beds” will “help ensure that the U.S. remains a magnet for the world’s greatest entrepreneurs,” and will enable U.S. communities to participate in the information economy. This is all good and warrants repeating.
Only a handful of these test beds exists right now. There could be hundreds or thousands. But at every step the big service providers the FCC is supposed to regulate — companies like Comcast, Time Warner Cable and Verizon — have blocked communities from moving forward. Why? They don’t want competition from those who see broadband as critical infrastructure and a local resource.
Genachowski didn’t touch on any of this. He offered no indication that the FCC would take a bigger and more proactive role in stimulating broadband competition. So what kind of vision did he offer? He said the FCC could be a kind of clearinghouse that would share news about what providers and communities are already doing. Bold.
Christopher Mitchell, who heads up the Institute for Local Self-Reliance’s research on community broadband, noted in the Huffington Post, “If only the head of the Federal Communications Commission understood what is preventing us from building those networks. Hint: It isn’t a lack of demand.”
He goes on:
Local businesses get it. Mayors get it. City councils get it. And unlike Chairman Genachowski, they know what the problem is: little incentive for massive, established cable monopolies to invest in networks when they are harvesting record profits and subscribers have no other choices. Wall Street not only gets it, it actually rejoices in it! …
What is our FCC chair doing about this problem? He helped Comcast to grow even bigger, with more market power to crush those rivals that he is calling on to build gigabit test beds.