High-Speed Buildouts: It’s Complicated

National Broadband Plan architect says issue is nuanced

Broadband providers have been criticized for building out to more affluent areas rather than evenly spreading the broadband wealth.

But one of the architects of the FCC’s Obama-era National Broadband Plan argues that the issue of when and where high-speed broadband gets built out is more nuanced than that.

In an op-ed for the San Francisco Chronicle, Blair Levin, now a fellow at the Brookings Institution who was also the National Broadband Plan czar under FCC chairman Julius Genachowski, teamed with Larry Downes of the Georgetown Center for Business and Public Policy, to take aim at a new study from the University of California at Berkeley and the Communications Workers of America. The study hammers AT&T, and by extension other similar business plans, concluding that based on the first year of AT&T’s GigaPower fiber-to-the-home buildout (pictured), the company was targeting upscale, more populous, areas.

Levin and Downes argued that the study is “extrapolating wildly” from a snapshot of data to essentially jump to the conclusion that rural areas will be stuck in the broadband slow lane forever.

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For one thing, they said, the report excludes others already providing high-speed broadband to 30 million Californians and having to upgrade to match AT&T, as well as mobile services that are investing in closing the competitive gap with fiber.

The study suggests the California government should get involved. Levin and Downes disagree.

“Given the many unknowns as to how market forces will drive next-generation network dynamics, we think it both foolish and counterproductive to dictate deployment strategies, timetables or other investment requirements,” they wrote.

Levin summed it up this way: “If we demand that anyone who offers ultra-high-speed internet anywhere must offer it everywhere, we will get it nowhere.”