Earlier this week, we posted a blog that focused on a hearing in the House of Representatives that explored rules and regulations on special access, which is the way in which circuits are leased by dominant carriers to other service providers, who may use them to connect to other carriers or to customers. How this is done is vital, but it is only one of many elements that determine the health of a nation's broadband infrastructure.
The status of broadband and its impact on small business was the subject of a Senate hearing, reported on in Red Herring, in late September. FCC Commissioner Michael Copps testified that in many cases small businesses can't get connectivity and, when they can, it often is pricey. A number of studies rank the United States from 15th to 24th in penetration and broadband speed.
Those are disturbing numbers. Part of the problem, the story says, is that the FCC classifies broadband as an information service, which reduces the government's control over how it is handled. A regulatory effort to make broadband more widely available and cheaper could require it to be reclassified as a telecommunications service.
It's interesting to compare the state of broadband in the United States against other nations. Even though the United States is far from the top, there are plenty of issues around the globe. The International Herald Tribune looks at broadband in Japan. On the surface, things are going well. Almost 8 million people are served by fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) platforms that are as much as 30 times as fast as DSL services.
That's good. But the piece also says there is pressure on Nippon Telegraph & Telephone (NTT), which has installed two-thirds of those FTTH connections. Critics think the approach is too costly, that cheaper alternatives exist and that not enough services are offered.
The situation is a bit more dire in England, at least from the subscriber point of view. According to this post at Broadband Watchdog, the Information Technology Innovation Foundation said that the average broadband subscriber in the UK has access to 2.6 Mbps of service. That is slower than Poland, Hungary and Slovakia, though speeds are not provided for these nations. The piece is more specific about a trio of other countries: Finland clocks in at 21.7 Mbps, Sweden at 18.2 Mbps, and France at 17.6 Mbps.
Clearly, the tie between broadband infrastructure and the host economy's overall health is universally accepted. Contractor UK reports that BT is toying with the idea of hiking speeds by replacing copper with fiber. Starting next month, BT executives will meet with regulators and government officials to discuss the creation of a 10 Mbps network. The story drives home the apparent need for such a move by citing the Information Technology Innovation Foundation study mentioned in the Broadband Watchdog story.
This short feature at TechNews focuses on a European Union broadband initiative called Broadband in Europe for All: a multi-Disciplinary Approach (BREAD). BREAD coordinators have consulted 25 Broadband for All (BB4All) projects in the EU's Sixth Framework Programme. Despite all the names, the primary preliminary goal was basic. The group wanted to determine the very definition of broadband. At the end of the day, BREAD adopted the flexible Slovakian definition that labels a network broadband if it doesn't slow down the user's application. This, the BREAD coordinator said, essentially means FTTH.
Competition, according to many, is the key. Cable operators will push telcos, telcos will push back -- and WiMax and other wireless approaches will stimulate both. Though it seems unrelated, it's good to read at Ars Technica that AT&T was able to apply for a statewide license in Illinois for its U-Verse fiber service. Applying for franchises on a community-by-community basis is an antiquated approach that stopped making sense decades ago. To lock phone companies into the same procedure now stifles competition -- and sets a good example of how not to encourage infrastructure investment.