Section 706 of the Telecommunications Act puts the Federal Communications Commission in a peculiar bind. The statute requires that the FCC determine whether Americans have access to high-speed, switched, broadband telecommunications capability that enables users to originate and receive high quality voice, data, graphics, and video telecommunications technology.
The FCC concluded that broadband was not being deployed in a timely manner. Factors such as broadband costs, quality of service, and adoption by consumers were hindering deployment.
Can you blame the industry? I say no, not after investing, according to the FCC, approximately $41 billion a year in network deployment. You can’t really fault the federal government, particularly after Congress allotted and the NTIA and RUS spent $7 billion to incentivize the design, construction, and deployment of broadband facilities in unserved and underserved communities.
But with 19 million Americans not having access to broadband, and 14.5 million of them living in rural areas, what more should the FCC do? As a promoter of commerce, the FCC has done a good job encouraging infrastructure deployment, but should it be responsible for encouraging broadband adoption?
Broadband adoption is a market reaction. By that I mean it’s up to consumers to determine the value of buying broadband access and it’s up to producers to create the demand. I got uncomfortable seeing FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski standing in front of a Best Buy talking about the fun apps and gadgets that could run on broadband networks. Fine and dandy, but once the FCC has met its duty to promote commerce by encouraging the deployment of networks, it’s time for the market players, consumers and producers, to do the rest.
Rural residents made a decision to live in rural areas. They should pick up the cost of building their own networks; pick up the cost of accessing current broadband networks, or investigate the alternative technologies that can provide them with access to broadband. Subsidies in the end mean some consumers are paying more than they have to in order for others to get service. Producers will have to rely on controversial cost models to approximate cost information that the market could more easily provide.
To limit the FCC’s interference in the broadband market, Congress could start by eliminating Section 706. By repealing this mandate, the FCC could better focus on ensuring the deployment of a ubiquitous network while the market could focus on sending and receiving more accurate supply and demand information.