RealTime IT News

Industry CEOs Issue Broadband Challenge

TechNet, an organization of high-tech industry leaders, threw down the gauntlet Tuesday and called on the federal government to adopt a 100 Mbps/100 million broadband customer goal by the end of 2009.

These goals, at first blush, seem to be in line with a new Internet service provider (ISP) organization created Monday to sway government and political thinking on the current status of the broadband industry, namely that current regulations are stymieing high-speed growth.

Connie Correll, TechNet executive vice president, vehemently denied claims the organization's goals were in line with or even lent credence to efforts by the nation's incumbent phone companies to do away with current legislation through the Tauzin-Dingell "Internet Freedom and Broadband Deployment Act."

"We have not taken a position on Tauzin-Dingell, nor will we," she said. "Our goal is to encourage competition to create a level playing field where all companies can compete fairly," she said. "We're hoping for the government to set a national policy and we sent some policy recommendations on how to get there, which is primarily creating a competitive free-market environment that is focused on deregulation."

The organization has outlined several recommended goals for the government to adopt, conceding changes will need to be done on an "incremental" basis:

  • Foster innovation and reduce regulation in broadband deployment
  • Invest in broadband infrastructure and remove regulatory "disincentives"
  • Encourage states and localities to streamline laws and regulations
  • Open up the wireless spectrum (assumably from the Pentagon to commercial interests)
  • Tax breaks for carriers who deploy to rural and underserved communities
  • The government should not pick technology winners and losers.

Rick White, TechNet chief executive officer, says the U.S. needs to embrace these guidelines if it is to succeed in the international community down the road.

"The United States led the world in developing the information economy," he said. "If we want to keep our leadership role, we need a high bandwidth network that will give U.S. citizens access to the enormous promise of 21st Century technology. The report we are releasing today outlines how we can get there."

The problem with these goals is they fly in the face of current Federal Communication Commission regulations and Donald Rumsfeld, Secretary of the Department of Defense.

Companies have been trying for years to pry spectrum set aside by the military for its own uses, namely secure communications on a frequency that isn't at risk of being compromised.

The Pentagon has been so worried about losing the issue with the more easily-swayed legislative and executive branches, it created a deputy Defense position Jan. 4 to oversee frequency spectrum issues. The press release accompanying the announcement stated "potential competition, interference and coordination requirements," prompted the need for a new spectrum "czar."

The U.S. Internet Service Provider Alliance, another organization of industry leaders, will likely seek to sway public opinion on the status of current broadband regulations.

Created Monday (its Web site is still under construction), the U.S. ISPA is made up of executives from AOL Time Warner , Verizon Online , EarthLink Inc. , and WorldCom , to name a few.

With two of the largest broadband ISPs in the nation (AOL with cable and Verizon's DSL), its certain the organization will look to convince the FCC and/or legislators to revamp the Telecommunications Act of 1996, a law that defined competition for Internet services, among other things.

AOL Time Warner, forced to open up its cable network as part of merger conditions imposed by the FCC and the Federal Trade Commission, has flip-flopped in recent times on the nation's need for open access (allowing independent providers to sell cable Internet services on the network).

Verizon and other Baby Bells, like SBC Communications , say the current regulatory environment makes it cost-prohibitive to deploy remote terminals and DSL access multiplexers (DSLAMs, which route DSL traffic) in underserved areas.

Like the U.S. ISPA, members of TechNet would like nothing more than for these "disincentives" to go away. Equipment and chip makers (Cisco, Intel and 3Com are on the TechNet board) have taken a hit in recent times with the death of dot com growth and would like nothing more than a surge in new equipment and processor orders, even if it comes at the cost of significantly-retooled legislation.

So far, the words expressed by TechNet are merely a different version of those initially voiced by the Baby Bells. H.R. 1542, co-authored by Reps. Billy Tauzin (R-LA) and John Dingell (D-MI), has been a dead duck since it's inception, barely making it out of the subcommittee led by the bill's two authors and tabled for the time being.

Like TechNet's goals for the government, the Tauzin-Dingell Bill seeks to foster innovation and reduce regulation while giving tax breaks for rural and underserved deployment.

But where they diverge is the end result, Correll said.

"We've not taken a stance on Tauzin-Dingell, I can't say that enough," Correll continued. "We've taken comments from the FCC, the Hill, and they've been generally supportive of the direction we are going. It's better for consumers," she said, if there are more competitors in the market.

John Chambers, Cisco Systems Inc. president and chief executive officer and co-founder of TechNet, said the need for widespread broadband is as important as any other national policy of the past.

"Broadband should be a national imperative for this country in the 21st Century, just like putting a man on the moon was an imperative in the last century," he said. "In order to stay competitive, educate the workforce and increase productivity, the United States must have ubiquitous broadband.