Broadband as the 4th Utility Gains Traction
March 19, 2010 1 Comment
Broadband communications access is rapidly gaining traction as a “4th Utility” in countries around the world. Recently, at Digital Africa 2010 in Kampala, several ministry-level delegates referenced their national initiatives building the “4th Utility” as among their highest priorities. On March 16th, FCC Chairman Genachowski stated “…broadband is essential for opportunity in America – for all Americans, from all communities and backgrounds, living in rural towns, inner cities, or in between.”
This means that broadband communications should be considered a basic right for all Americans, and persons from all countries, at the same level of other utilities including:
None of the above utilities are free, all require major infrastructure development, and all are basic requirements for survival in the 21st century.
Genachoski went on to set some ambitious goals for the United States, as included in the “National Broadband Plan,” that include:
- 1 gigabit to every community
- affordable 100 megabits to 100 million households
- raising adoption (of broadband access) from 65% to 90% adoption, heading to 100%
FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn stated in a March 10th release that 93 million Americans still do not access broadband communications at home. 36% of those indicating they are not using broadband cite the high cost of access as their major reason for not gaining access, or terms of broadband access are unattractive.
While it would be easy for us to say Internet and broadband providers should be regulated on pricing and terms of service, we should also, if we want to consider broadband a 4th utility, compare the terms of access with other utilities provided to citizens of the United States. The cost of broadband will no doubt change based on:
- Location – rural vs. urban
- Number of providers in a community or market – including wireless
- Distance from Internet interconnection and exchange points
- Subscriber density in a specific geography (sparsely populated areas will have a higher cost of service)
The National Broadband Plan adds additional goals and action items that further reinforce the idea of broadband as a 4th utility, including:
- Goal No. 1: At least 100 million U.S. homes should have affordable access to actual download speeds of at least 100 megabits per second and actual upload speeds of at least 50 megabits per second
- Goal No. 2: The United States should lead the world in mobile innovation, with the fastest and most extensive wireless networks of any nation
- Goal No. 3: Every American should have affordable access to robust broadband service, and the means and skills to subscribe if they so choose
- Goal No. 4: Every community should have affordable access to at least 1 gigabit per second broadband service to anchor institutions such as schools, hospitals, and government buildings
- Goal No. 5: To ensure the safety of American communities, every first responder should have access to a nationwide, wireless, interoperable broadband public safety network
- Goal No. 6: To ensure that America leads in the clean energy economy, every American should be able to use broadband to track and manage their real-time energy consumption.
This is a pretty comprehensive framework, adding additional forward thinking such as using broadband to support the “intelligent grid,” and wireless communications. And there is still a lot of work to accomplish. The broadband.gov website now includes several utilities used to both give consumers an idea of their current broadband performance, as well as show a very good map on the best places in the United States for accessing Internet services, and the worst.
The best states, which give an average data download speed of greater than 10Mbps, include:
- New Jersey
And the worst averaging less than 2Mbps downloads including:
- New Mexico
Even the best locations in the United States are a fraction of the average Internet and broadband access speeds enjoyed in countries like South Korea, with average home access throughout the country nearing 50Mbps today and plans to increase that to 1Gbps by 2012 (Brookings Institution).
The Overall Framework
The National Broadband Plan correctly looks at more than just home access to the Internet. As a utility, the broadband plan must cover all aspects of society and life that require communications, and includes reference to broadband categories such as:
- Broadband and US economic opportunity (global economy)
- Health Care
- Civic Engagement
- Public Safety
Next Steps in Broadband
Powerpoint slides and MS Word documents are fine, however we need to focus on tangible results that are measured by meeting our goals. Those goals start with digging holes in the ground, constructing towers, and pulling cable into houses and offices. Everything else is cute, but noise.
“This plan is in beta, and always will be
Like the Internet itself, this plan will always be changing—adjusting to new developments in technologies and markets, reflecting new realities and evolving to realize previously unforeseen opportunities” (From National Broadband Plan)
The National Broadband Plan was delivered to the American people on 17 March, 2010. The goals (as above) are mandated to be in place by 2020. It is an aggressive plan, however Chairman Genachowski appears to have the sense of urgency needed to get it done – unless of course American politics create barriers preventing success.
Americans, and people of all nations should take a close look at the US National Broadband Plan, and those of other nations. If the US and other nations around the world truly consider broadband access as a 4th utility, those who do not have that utility will not be functional in the mid-21st century.
The US plan and strategy is available to all at broadband.gov