Speedy Broadband Deployment Pitched to FCC

Broadband deployment can happen faster in the U.S. if government agencies remove some road blocks, several members of the telecom industry told the U.S. Federal Communications Commission Wednesday.

Local governments can help by creating standard rules and fee structures for broadband providers to bury cable or attach lines to electricity poles, Rochelle Jones, senior vice president of regulatory affairs at TW Telecom, said during an FCC forum on accelerating broadband deployment. Different rules for approval and for payments can lead broadband providers to think twice before expanding into a new community, she said.

During the forum, FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski announced an internal FCC task force dedicated to look for ways to reduce obstacles to broadband deployment. Genachowski challenged the task force, using suggestions from the public, to end regulatory barriers and reduce the time required for broadband deployment by 20 percent.

Reducing barriers to deployment is important, he said, because about 24 million U.S. residents don't have access to traditional broadband service. The U.S. is lagging behind many other countries in broadband availability and adoption, he added.

"Broadband ... is the indispensable infrastructure of our digital economy," Genachowski said. "Broadband enables businesses -- big and small -- to grow and hire. It is an unprecedented platform for collaboration and innovation -- allowing inventors in their dorm rooms and garages to take big ideas, share them with the world, and build some of the powerhouse companies of the digital economy."

Participants in the FCC forum offered several ideas for accelerating broadband deployment. If all U.S. government buildings offered Wi-Fi hot spots and had femtocell mobile base stations installed, that would greatly increase broadband availability and mobile phone coverage, said Matthew Hussey, telecom advisor to Senator Olympia Snowe, a Maine Republican.

Late last year, Snowe introduced a bill that would allocate US$15 million to install Wi-Fi networks and femtocells in all federal buildings, echoing a recommendation in the FCC's national broadband plan. The bill would have also streamlined the broadband rights-of-way process on federal land and in federal buildings.

The U.S. General Services Administration manages more than 8,500 buildings across the U.S. and the U.S. Postal Service has more than 36,000 post offices, Hussey said.

"We don't have to reinvent the wheel," Hussey said. "It's just making more effective use of federal assets."

Lawrence Behr, CEO of telecom consulting firm LBA Group, suggested that mobile voice and broadband providers approach AM radio stations about sharing their towers. There are about 10,000 AM radio towers in the U.S., many of them in rural areas with few broadband options, he said.

Sharing the AM towers would involve less government red tape for mobile broadband providers than building new towers, he added. "The [AM] sites are already there, they're well known, and they've been there for a long time," Behr said. "The zoning and the permitting typically is much faster."

Mobile providers have generally avoided sharing AM towers because the two industries don't understand each other's technologies, Behr said. Mobile broadband signals do not interfere with AM radio signals if the equipment is property installed, Behr said.

"Not only are they 1,000 megahertz apart, but they are 100 years apart," he said.

Grant Gross covers technology and telecom policy in the U.S. government for The IDG News Service. Follow Grant on Twitter at GrantGross. Grant's e-mail address is grant_gross@idg.com.

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