Modified June 21, 2011

Broadband Access and Infrastructure

High-speed Internet access – often referred to as “broadband” – is a set of technologies that, taken together, are recognized as a potential catalyst for global economic and social change. As the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (“FCC”) recently stated, broadband is…
“a foundation for economic growth, job creation, global competitiveness and a better way of life. It is enabling entire new industries and unlocking vast new possibilities for existing ones. It is changing how we educate children, deliver health care, manage energy, ensure public safety, engage government, and access, organize and disseminate knowledge.”1  
Broadband’s physical infrastructure includes both traditional cable and fiber-optic “wireline” networks (such as those operated by Comcast and Verizon) and wireless networks, including 3G networks (e.g., Sprint, T-Mobile) and 4G networks (Clear and, in the future, Verizon Wireless and AT&T Wireless). “Broadband access” generally refers to the availability of broadband services, as well as the adoption of those services where available.  Increasing the availability and adoption of broadband is an important goal of national communications policy, and in particular the FCC’s National Broadband Plan. There are, however, differing views of the appropriate role of government vs. the private sector in increasing broadband access in the U.S.

1 FCC National Broadband Plan, Executive Summary, pg. 1.


These issues arise in discussions of broadband access and infrastructure:
  • The appropriate role of government in promoting broadband access and adoption.

  • The impact of various forms of economic regulation and social policies on private investment in broadband networks.

  • Comparisons of broadband access in the United States vs. other nations.

  • The role of the federal government in promoting competition among broadband providers.

  • Franchising and licensing broadband networks, and carriers’ use of radio towers, telephone poles, and public rights-of-way, such as conduit under roads.

  • The impact of broadband access on economic growth.

  • The relative merits of different technology platforms – e.g., wireline (fiber-based, cable) and/or wireless 3G (EV-DO, UMTS, HSDPA) and 4G (WiMAX, LTE) – in delivering broadband to different user groups (homes, public facilities like schools or libraries, small businesses, large enterprise, emergency responders, etc.).

  • The use of universal service funds and other subsidies to address instances of market failure and expand availability of broadband, especially in rural areas, and adoption of broadband by underrepresented groups, such as low-income, disabled, and elderly consumers.

TAP Academics researching broadband access and infrastructure include:
Jacques Cremer of the University of Toulouse writes on the Internet, competition and economic growth.

Nicholas Economides, who teaches at NYU’s Stern School of Business, writes about competition and pricing issues.
Daniel Spulber of the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University writes on broadband competition policy and antitrust.

Tim Wu of the Columbia University School of Law writes about net neutrality and innovation. 

Christopher Yoo of the University of Pennsylvania Law School writes on broadband competition and regulation.

“The vigor with which the FCC has pursued allegations of improper network management suggests that the regulatory structure may already be in place to ensure that consumers are both protected and able to enjoy the Internet’s tremendous promise in the future.”, Christopher Yoo, quoted in CED Magazine,Network Neutrality – Overgovernance in the Digital Age,” 7/31/2010
These sources are a good place to start in understanding broadband issues. Nicholas Economides summarizes the view that network competition is different from other forms of competition in “Competition Policy in Network Industries: An Introduction.” “Rethinking Broadband Internet Access,” by Daniel Spulber and Christopher Yoo, looks at broadband competition. And Tim Wu’s paper, Subsidizing Creativity through Network Design: Zero-Pricing and Net Neutrality,” supports regulation to encourage innovative uses of the Internet.
Recent Developments
The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) of 2009 included $7.2 billion to expand broadband access in un-served and under-served areas of the U.S.  The ARRA provided the NTIA with $4.7 billion for grants under the Broadband Technology Opportunities Program. The ARRA also required the FCC to develop a National Broadband Plan, which the agency submitted to Congress in March of 2010. By 2020, the long-term goals of the plan are for:

  • Every American to have affordable access to broadband services with actual download speeds of at least 4 Mbps and actual upload speeds of at least 1 Mbps;
  • 100 million American households to have access to more robust broadband connections with actual download speeds of at least 100 Mbps and actual upload speeds of at least 50 Mbps, and;  
  • Every American community to have affordable access to at least 1 Gbps broadband service at “anchor institutions,” e.g., schools, hospital and government buildings.

In 2010, the FCC began working toward these goals. It sought comment on, among other things, reclassifying broadband Internet service as a telecommunications service, although it also proposed not to impose most traditional telecommunications service regulations on broadband service providers  “other than the small number that are needed to implement fundamental universal service, competition and market entry, and consumer protection policies.”  In July, the FCC released its report on access to broadband.  Also in 2010, the FCC initiated proceedings to reform the application of universal service policies to include broadband access, while also announcing steps to control spending on expenditures for universal service support.
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Key Legislation

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