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Government Networking The Internet United States

FCC Dodges Pointed Questions On US Broadband Plan 276

Ars covers a series of questions that US senators put to the FCC chairman following up on his appearance before the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee in April. The headline question was a blunt one asked by octogenarian Senator Daniel Inouye (D-HI): "The National Broadband Plan (NBP) proposes a goal of having 100 million homes subscribed at 100Mbps by 2020, while the leading nations already have 100Mbps fiber-based services at costs of $30 to $40 per month and beginning rollout of 1Gbps residential services, which the FCC suggests is required only for a single anchor institution in each community by 2020. This appears to suggest that the US should accept a 10- to 12-year lag behind the leading nations. What is the FCC's rationale for a vision that appears to be firmly rooted in the second tier of countries?" In the FCC's formal response (PDF), Chairman Genachowski doesn't rise to the "second tier" bait, and in fact talks about "ensuring that America remains a broadband world leader," as if he believes we currently are. A blogger over at Balloon Juice is a little more forthright on the "What is the FCC's rationale" question: "The rationale is that this is the best they can do with a legislative branch in the pocket of telecom providers."
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FCC Dodges Pointed Questions On US Broadband Plan

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  • To be fair (Score:5, Insightful)

    by poet ( 8021 ) on Saturday July 10, 2010 @04:00PM (#32861580) Homepage

    We (the U.S.) is a great deal larger and more spread out than *any* of those other countries. However, it is ridiculous that I can't easily get 100Mbs (compared to other countries) in cities like Portland or Seattle. I would expect to only be able to get 25Mbs where I live (and I can and do), as I am 45 from a major metro.

  • Ummm... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Wyatt Earp ( 1029 ) on Saturday July 10, 2010 @04:03PM (#32861594)

    No other country that is at the top of the broadband list has 100 million homes.

    http://top10.com/broadband/blog/2010/02/top_10_broadband_countries/ [top10.com]
    http://money.cnn.com/2009/10/01/news/economy/broadband_internet_connection/index.htm [cnn.com]

    It's much easier to throw alot of broadband out when your populations are centralized, or the country is small.

  • by ZanySpyDude ( 1215564 ) on Saturday July 10, 2010 @04:03PM (#32861596) Homepage
    I dislike immensely a system that prohibits someone from speaking openly about a nations problems to it's very legislators.
  • by BJ_Covert_Action ( 1499847 ) on Saturday July 10, 2010 @04:04PM (#32861602) Homepage Journal

    "The rationale is that this is the best they can do with a legislative branch in the pocket of telecom providers."


    Too bad US Senators are unlikely to read such words themselves. It would be fun to see their reactions at being lambasted for being the corrupt morons they are. I doubt they would change their ways over such accusations, but watching them get all puffy faced and dramatic in their excuses/responses to such outright disrespect would be funnier than most of the crap I can find on TV nowadays.

  • Apples and Oranges (Score:4, Insightful)

    by MaggieL ( 10193 ) on Saturday July 10, 2010 @04:04PM (#32861606)

    "Ranking" broadband penetration by comparing countries like Singapore and Finland with the US containing states like Alaska, Kansas and Nevada) is just plain silly. The economics of providing network coverage are insanely sensitive to population density and land area.

  • Re:To be fair (Score:5, Insightful)

    by phantomfive ( 622387 ) on Saturday July 10, 2010 @04:39PM (#32861786) Journal
    Even Seattle, with it's suburban neighborhoods of separated houses is going to have trouble matching Tokyo high-rise apartments, where you can get 1Gb networks in some places.

    The reason slashdot readers have so much trouble with this (and start making up conspiracy theories like the one in the summary) is because the FCC has a different goal than the average slashdot reader. The average slashdot reader wants an OC192 line straight to his house. The FCC wants to give everyone broadband. So if you have 1mb download speeds, you're basically a success case for the FCC, even if you're not happy about it. The FCC is going to try to reach the people still on dial-up (I don't know who that is).

    As you can see from this chart, [internetworldstats.com] the US has more broadband users than any other country in the world. It has a higher percentage of broadband users than even Japan. So as far as the FCC is concerned, their goals are being reached. Your personal goal (and frankly, my personal goal) of getting an OC192 line is not a priority to them. Sorry.
  • by fullback ( 968784 ) on Saturday July 10, 2010 @04:47PM (#32861830)

    The "US is too big" argument is specious. How did Americans ever get telephones, gas and water if the country is too big? Why don't high-density cities have 1st-world Internet speeds?

    Look, I've lived in Japan through all iterations of Internet connectivity, from x.x modems, through ISDN, Adsl and fiber. I don't live in a city, I live an hour drive from a major city, but I've had 100Mbps fiber for eight or nine years now. It's so long ago, I can't remember, but it costs me about the same as a couple of pizzas per month.

    I actually have 1Gbps wired, but I don't need that capacity yet. I have HDTV through my connection and the infrastructure is so solid, I have never had an outage in 15 years - not one. I lived in a rural area 8 years ago and still had 40Mbps Adsl.

    There are few technological or geographical hurdles affecting your Internet connectivity in the US. You have only market hurdles. The biting reality is that local monopolies are stifling the market, as they are intended to do. If you really want state-of-the-art connectivity, you have to embrace a free market. Recall local and state politicians who vote for monopolies, or defeat them in elections by voting in people who will repeal monopoly legislation made in collusion with the provider.

  • Re:To be fair (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Mad Merlin ( 837387 ) on Saturday July 10, 2010 @04:53PM (#32861854) Homepage

    BTW why do you need 100 Mbit/s?

    What do you need a 3 GHz 6 core CPU for? What do you need 12G of RAM for? What do you need a 3T hard drive for? These are all equally pointless questions, because regardless of the fact that you can't think of anything that would use the faster hardware, there's always countless ideas that would become practical (and widely implemented) when faster hardware is deployed.

  • by Improv ( 2467 ) <pgunn01@gmail.com> on Saturday July 10, 2010 @04:59PM (#32861874) Homepage Journal

    Thanks to a marketing mentality, our response to any realisation that we're not doing well is to "declare it ain't so" and toss out distractions until the challenger gives up in exasperation. Any studies to the contrary have enough mud slung at them that the common person won't trust either side and will allow their national pride or other predispositions to decide what they think is real.

    We're not good at looking problems in the face, no matter what their nature.

  • by ducomputergeek ( 595742 ) on Saturday July 10, 2010 @05:03PM (#32861898)

    We own a farm that is a 4 hour drive from a major city. At the farm house, they didn't get phone service until the early 1950's and they had a party line until 1990. Electricity came in the 40's, but water is provide by a well and sanitation by a septic tank. Gas has been and is still provided by a propane tank and is filled by trunk once a year (we don't spend much time there after my grand mother died, but still keep the place up as a place to go when we want to get away from the city for a few days or need to do farm business).

    Telecom services eventually do make it out to the rural areas, but it takes time. And by time I'm talking years and sometimes decades. Even cell reception with Verizon can be spotty in places because there is something like 0.4 people per square mile. Rural in Japan is not the same thing as Rural in Kansas or Nebraska or Montana.

  • by fullback ( 968784 ) on Saturday July 10, 2010 @05:30PM (#32862066)

    "Rural in Japan is not the same thing as Rural in Kansas or Nebraska or Montana."

    Yes, I agree. I would probably refer to your family farm as "isolated" and not "rural." ;-) Either way, it is near the extreme end of the density chart, and that may be why you don't live there full time.

  • Re:To be fair (Score:3, Insightful)

    by commodore64_love ( 1445365 ) on Saturday July 10, 2010 @05:57PM (#32862286) Journal

    >>>The FCC is going to try to reach the people still on dial-up (I don't know who that is).

    I do. A friend of mine is stuck on dialup (about 45k digital connection). He has both cable and phonelines which could easily be upgraded to Broadband internet (just install a DOCSIS or DSLAM box for ~$100). But they don't. IMHO the Congress needs to mandate that the local phone company must provide that simple upgrade, the same way in the 1930s they mandated the phone company must hook every home to a phone line. The money can come out of the monthly USF we all pay.

  • Re:To be fair (Score:4, Insightful)

    by commodore64_love ( 1445365 ) on Saturday July 10, 2010 @06:06PM (#32862364) Journal

    >>>At least ordinary radio isn't digitalized and laden with a subscription fee yet.

    I concur on the Amish part. The economy collapses and they barely notice; they just keep on planting their food and enjoying life. Most of them are rich compared to most of us (they have half-a-million or more in cash or in the bank). As for Digital Radio no date has been set but I expect the FCC to shutoff analog radio by 2020 - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/HD_Radio [wikipedia.org]

  • Re:To be fair (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Nyder ( 754090 ) on Saturday July 10, 2010 @06:22PM (#32862496) Journal


    BTW why do you need 100 Mbit/s?

    porn of course.

    Live action porn, with the upcoming sex robot attachment.

    What else pushes industries, but porn?

  • by Nyder ( 754090 ) on Saturday July 10, 2010 @06:30PM (#32862586) Journal

    Why can't we do this in a logical organized manner.

    1. The government builds out infrastructure
    2. The telecoms lease infrastructure
    3. Individuals buy service from the telecoms at a regulated rate
    4. The regulated rate has enough buffer to subsidize service to those under the poverty line
    5. The lease rate has enough buffer to pay for the original build out, maintenance, plus further innovation
    6. Innovation money is funneled back into colleges for research into next gen technologies

    The build out could be done with contractors through the telecoms, or contracted on a state by state basis giving states control of where and when to build but the federal government own the spec of how to build out so that it remains consistent and interoperable from a interstate trade perspective (i.e. some broadband may be shared over boarders like in the case of St. Louis). The telecoms still get to profit from the infrastructure albeit at a reduced profit due to regulation and people below poverty get the opportunity to take part via subsidy, library, schools, etc.,. You could even due partial regulation where it's regulated up until some minimum standard and anything over that is considered "gold plan" allowing the telecoms to charge higher rates for higher usage.

    How about this. broadband, tv, phone, electricity, water is all taken care of by the government. no private companies trying to make a profit from them. It's part of our rights as american citizens.

    Yes, we would still have to pay for them, as taxes, or whatever. But no middle man trying to profit off people.

    Of course, the biggest problems are corporations. We have to limit their power first.

  • Re:No, we are not (Score:4, Insightful)

    by SwedishPenguin ( 1035756 ) on Saturday July 10, 2010 @06:53PM (#32862718)

    Norway has tons of oil. Sweden? We've got some wood, and iron...
    You most certainly can afford to lay down fiber, but it's obviously not something you prioritize, just like you can afford to cover your entire populations healthcare needs if it was something your politicians decided was necessary.
    I've got 100Mbps fiber in my apartment. My parents house will get fiber this fall, the former state monopoly (which owns pretty much all the phone infrastructure because of an idiotic decision to sell the infrastructure when the company was privatized) is putting fibers in the existing underground tubes for phone lines. (most phone lines were dug into the ground decades ago, along with electricity)

  • Re:To be fair (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Mad Merlin ( 837387 ) on Saturday July 10, 2010 @07:19PM (#32862878) Homepage

    >>>What do you need a 3 GHz 6 core CPU for?

    I don't. I watch HDTV on a 3 gigahertz single core Pentium

    >>>What do you need 12G of RAM for?

    I don't. I only have half-a-gig.

    >>>What do you need a 3T hard drive for?

    I don't. It's only 0.3 terabytes.

    The questions aren't directed at anyone in particular, they're just today's equivalent of the same questions people could have asked 10 years ago... What do you need a 3 GHz Pentium for? What do you need 512M RAM for? What do you need a 300G hard drive for? Of course, the answers to those questions are blindingly obvious now, but they weren't then.

    What I'm really trying to point out here is the absurdity of the typical kneejerk reaction of "Oh, there's nothing yet that requires $newtech, therefore it's stupid and nobody should buy it."

    Finally, if you're going to go by the literal definition of "need", then your original question is loaded, as there's no correct answer. Nobody needs an Internet connection, a computer, anything electronic or even a home.

  • Re:To be fair (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Ecuador ( 740021 ) on Saturday July 10, 2010 @07:36PM (#32862998) Homepage

    This crap gets modded up again? For years I could not get anything better than 3/768 DSL or 5/512 Cable (worse actually) in the middle of friggin' Manhattan. In any of our two locations, Chelsea and Upper East side that was the best available. The same for both the homes I lived in, on in Queens and one in Brooklyn. Finally last year I think it was speakeasy that offered us "up to" 12 Mbit DSL for... wait for it... 160$!!! Yes, it was static IP included (you didn't have a choice), but come on! Supposedly FIOS is coming "soon"...
    Meanwhile, in Athens Greece, with Greece being among the worse (or the worst) among EU nations in internet speed, everyone I know has had at least 8Mbit (currently "up to" 24, with 10-13 being the usual case at the typical 1-2km distance from a DSLAM) for about 30-40 Euro. And again, this is among the worse of EU.
    So, yeah, do your nice comparisons. Delaware = Romania and don't forget New York = Zimbambwe and chill out, no need to ask for more!

  • Re:To be fair (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday July 10, 2010 @08:40PM (#32863392)

    Ok, given that the FCCs jurisdiction is just the US and not the whole continent (which also includes Canada, Mexico, Guatemala, Belize, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and part of Panama, not to mention possibly including all the Caribbean nations), then a billion Cell phone towers would get you over a hundred cell phone towers per square kilometer. Just a little bit of overkill. On average, you can probably manage something more like one cell phone tower for every 10 square kilometers (which is a little over a 3 km range while some towers in flat areas can cover thousands of square kilometers in theory, while more geographically complex areas can take a lot more, but it all evens out), which is more like 1 million cell phone towers. If they can be built for say 150,000, then that's about $150 billion dollars, which works out to about $150 apiece if you assume 100 million cell phone users in the US (probably a big underestimate). I paid about $2000 for cell phone service for myself and my girlfriend last year, so $1000 apiece (data plans and unlimited texting and so forth probably make it more than the absolute average person pays). Even if we assume only a hundred million cell phone users in the US and we assume they paid a quarter what I pay, and we assume towers last 20 years and amortize the cost and we assume they need 10% of their construction cost in maintenance and power each year (including transponder upgrades every few years, amortized), that's $22.5 billion per year, which is less than the $25 billion per year we're underestimating the Telecoms get in cell phone bills per year (we're giving everyone a $21 monthly cell phone bill).
    So, if the telecommunications companies used the other $2.5 billion per year on things like billing and accounting (around $2 per customer, per month) we could have 100% cell phone coverage. The reality is of course that the telecoms take in a lot more than my estimates in cell phone bills, but we only have about a fifth of those million towers. So let's say they get $35 billion per year in bills and they spend $4.5 billion a year on cell phone infrastructure and $2.5 billion per year on billing and accounting. What do they spend the other $28 billion on? True I'm just making up these numbers, but they're not crazy far out and I'm mostly overestimating average costs and underestimating profits. I've kind of ignored the land-bound connections between towers partly because with that many towers they could communicate between each other with line of sight communications in many cases and partly because most of the land-bound infrastructure is part of the telecoms non-wireless business.
    The point is, it's pretty clear that the telecoms in the US rake in profits and neglect their infrastructure. Arguments about the US having a low population density don't really cut it for me. The telecoms infrastructure is a tree, there's a cost to the nodes and a cost to the connections between the nodes. If it's designed efficiently, then the number of nodes on the tree is pretty much the same ratio of nodes to customers as it is for any country, and people still tend to live in clusters, even if the clusters are further apart, so not all of the connections between the nodes are longer. The nodes represent telecoms switching equipment and facilities, which can be really expensive and the connections are cable runs. So, the cable runs can be longer, but there should be about the same number of expensive switches and so forth per person. So, the cost will be greater, but you can't say, for example, that since the US has half the population density of Ireland that it will cost half as much as the US per person to wire up to the same level. Most of the cost per person is the same, just the small part of running the cable is more.

  • by Civil_Disobedient ( 261825 ) on Saturday July 10, 2010 @09:14PM (#32863568)

    Rural in Japan is not the same thing as Rural in Kansas or Nebraska or Montana.

    No, but URBAN Japan IS a lot like urban New York, urban Chicago, urban San Francisco. And yet, somehow their cities get the same 100Mbps fiber that's OH NOES IMPOSSIBLE! for the U.S.

    One thing this country has become a major producer and exporter of: pathetic excuses.

  • Re:To be fair (Score:4, Insightful)

    by trickofperspective ( 180714 ) on Saturday July 10, 2010 @10:07PM (#32863794) Homepage

    100Mbps is for innovation. You're right -- 10 or 25Mbps is plenty for now. So imagine what could be done with 100Mbps; while Americans are imagining it, people from other countries are, in fact, experimenting with and developing it.

    "640K ought to be enough for anybody."

  • Re:To be fair (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Kral_Blbec ( 1201285 ) on Saturday July 10, 2010 @10:12PM (#32863834)
    Actually its those in the depths of poverty who are the most likely to dedicate part of their income to TV (and cigarettes and beer).
    I'll get marked flamebait for it, but having grown up in a poor part of a poor town, I have no doubt but that its largely their own choices and actions that A) put them there and/or B) keep them there.
  • Re:To be fair (Score:3, Insightful)

    by ultranova ( 717540 ) on Sunday July 11, 2010 @10:21AM (#32866340)

    Yeah except they aren't doing that. The FCC isn't listening to the majority of the people, and instead is listening to the siren call of the corporations (and $$$).

    As people often point out here, the USA is not a direct democracy, it's a democratic republic. That means that FCC is fully within its rights - and indeed has a duty to - in ignoring the majority of the people if it thinks they are wrong. You have a remedy against this behaviour during the next elections.

    I'd have to pay about $100 a month to use the channels that I've used for Free all my life.

    Yes, and I'm not using them at all, and haven't for years. I'd be better served by selling them off and having the money used for something that benefits me. Apparently the FCC thinks that the latter is better than the former.

    How is moving from free to a paywall an improvement?

    It's not. The question is: is the money the companies pay for them enough to justify it?

    "The People" would be better off to not lockup those channels into these megacorps, and instead allow it to continue to be used by local, community-based tv stations to provide Free streaming video content (6000 gigabytes per month per channel), as has been the case for the last ~70 years.

    No, as you've repeatedly stated, you would be better off that way. And as I have stated, I would be better off selling them off as long as those companies pay even a single burnt wooden penny for them. As for what most benefits The People, that's for the FCC to figure out - that's why it exists.

    Why is it that libertarians have such a hard time acknowledging that the interests of people other than themselves might also matter? Or am I mixing cause and effect here?

  • Re:No, we are not (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Sepodati ( 746220 ) on Sunday July 11, 2010 @01:49PM (#32867716) Homepage

    >> Free TV streams 6000 gigabytes per month per channel.

    What's your upstream rate on that, since we're comparing apples to oranges?

Sigmund Freud is alleged to have said that in the last analysis the entire field of psychology may reduce to biological electrochemistry.