BROADBAND COMMUNITIES is the leading source of information on digital and broadband technologies for buildings and communities. Our editorial aims to accelerate the deployment of Fiber-To-The-Home and Fiber-To-The-Premises.
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76 | BROADBAND COMMUNITIES | www.broadbandcommunities.com | MAY/JUNE 2015 BROADBAND POLICY Why States Should Support Broadband Local choice doesn't have to be a partisan issue. Policymakers can seek common perspectives on broadband policies and practices. By Tom Sloan / Kansas State Legislature M ost state policymakers support a competitive broadband marketplace because competition tends to result in more innovation and lower prices for consumers. Most policymakers also believe that competition is an imperfect means of protecting consumer interests. For example, poor system performance in a multiyear service contract is unlikely to be fxed without government intervention. Disparity in service quality has traditionally not been acceptable for public utilities, as laws mandate that services be provided and priced on a nondiscriminatory basis. If broadband truly is essential in the 21st century for economic development, health care, public safety and other societal goals, then policymakers and broadband providers must address disparities in availability, speed, bandwidth, afordability and reliability. Broadband providers often deliver lower levels of service at higher prices in some parts of their service territories than in other parts. Rural residents frequently experience this second-class status, though it also exists in low-income urban neighborhoods and in neighborhoods with low take rates. Similar price and service disparities exist when only one grocery store or other retail marketer serves a geographically isolated or low-income population. When a competitor arrives, customer choices increase, and prices generally decline. Stimulating development of a competitive marketplace has measurable benefts to consumers; the key question is whether or how government should provide the necessary incentives or competition within the broadband market. MINIMUM BROADBAND STANDARDS Members of the public, public ofcials and representatives of the infrastructure and content industries must decide what basic broadband service levels should be in terms of broadband speed, system capacity, and message priorities. Tough some providers ofer high-performance options to economically selected customers, basic service remains unacceptable for persons in low economic strata, in sparsely populated areas or even in areas in which providers have not sufciently marketed. When the competitive marketplace does not provide adequate protections for persons with few assets, then a legitimate role for government exists – protecting consumers' interests. Te minimum performance and customer service standards must not become static, or the problem simply perpetuates itself. Te FCC and the states have used universal service funds to ensure all residents access to minimal service capabilities. Minimal broadband speed and quality of service may be sufcient to run smartphone apps – which policymakers are all too often enamored of – but they foreclose many opportunities for residents receiving them.