RealTime IT News

Bush Broadband Goal Fading

President Bush's goal of "universal, affordable" broadband access for all Americans by 2007 is becoming a flagging notion, according to a study by the Government Accountability Office (GAO).

In the report, the GAO determined only 28 percent of Americans had a broadband connection in 2005. In addition, 30 percent of the surveyed households use a dial-up connection to access the Internet, leaving 41 percent of U.S. homes without any Internet connection.

The GAO report also found that rural Americans are much less likely to subscribe to broadband than those living in cities. In all, only 17 percent of rural households have broadband service.

The report also questions Federal Communications Commission (FCC) numbers showing that 99 percent of Americans live in the 95 percent of ZIP codes that have at least one broadband provider reporting to be serving at least one subscriber.

"For its ZIP-code level data, FCC collects data based on where subscribers are served, not where providers have deployed broadband infrastructure," the report states.

Although it is clear that the deployment of broadband networks is extensive, the data may not provide an accurate depiction of local deployment of broadband infrastructures for residential service, especially in rural areas.

The GAO concluded the price of broadband service remains a barrier for some consumers, but the availability of broadband applications and services also influences whether consumers purchase high-speed connections.

According to the GAO, even when cost-and-demand factors are favorable, "technical factors can limit the deployment of broadband service in certain contexts."

For instance, the GAO notes, copper DSL connections can generally extend only three miles from the central office, precluding many U.S. households from obtaining DSL.

The GAO also found that broadband deployment can stumble at the local level, with disputes over rights-of-way, pole attachments and wireless tower sites.

U.S. Senator Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) was quick to embrace the GAO report as further proof of the need for telecom reform.

Last week, Stevens released a 135-page draft bill calling for a wide range of measures to pump in broadband deployment.

"The disparity of broadband deployment between rural and urban America cited in the GAO report raises serious concerns," Stevens, chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, said in a statement. "High-speed Internet access is absolutely essential to all Americans, whether you live in Manhattan or a remote village in Alaska."

The legislation would permit national video franchises, allow municipalities to offer their own broadband services, authorize the use of white space spectrum between broadcast channels for wireless use and dedicate $1 billion for emergency network interoperability.

More controversially, the bill would rewrite Universal Service Fund (USF) rules to extend payments to "communications providers," including broadband and Voice over IP providers.

Currently, consumers pay USF fees on phone service only.

The new USF fees would be used for broadband deployment in rural and high-cost areas of the country.