FCC's Sohn: 25 Mbps Is Snail's Pace in Fiber World

Says broadband nets don't meet users' needs
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Gigi Sohn, counselor to FCC chairman Tom Wheeler, told a fiber-to-the-home conference in California this week that the FCC was ready to step in to preempt any more state laws that hampered municipal fiber buildouts, and would give cities money to do that building if the big telecoms don't step up.

And Sohn made it clear she did not think commercial broadband networks were cutting it.

"It’s not hard to see that current networks are not up to the task to meet the needs of today’s Internet users," she told the FTTH Connect conference in Anaheim, Calif., June 30. Sohn talked bout the folks that can't get 25 Mbps broadband (1 in 6 Americans, she said), what she pointed out chairman Wheeler has called table stakes for "full use" of the Internet.

She pointed out that the FCC had upped its baseline for high speed to that 25 Mbps. But she also said even that was a "snail's pace" in a world of fiber.

The FCC earlier this year preempted state laws limiting municipal broadband buildouts in Chattanooga and Wilson, N.C., where she said there had been substandard service or none. Sohn said the FCC was ready to do so again if needed.

"Now the FCC respects the important role of state governments in our federal system and we don’t take preemption of state laws lightly. But when state laws directly conflict with Federal laws and policy, we are not afraid to take action," she said.

But she also pointed to efforts that did not involve the FCC's intervention.

"In cities and towns where incumbent broadband access providers have not stepped up to provide their customers with the reliably fast service they need at a reasonable price, community leaders are taking matters into their own hands," she said.

But the FCC is also ready to invest in those builds. Sohn pointed out that the FCC has Universal Service Fund subsidies that municipalities can access if the major telecoms, who get first crack at the funds, pass on the money.

"In our Connect America Fund order last December, we guaranteed broadband providers more than $10 billion over six years for broadband deployment to underserved areas," she said, "If the price cap providers don’t take advantage of these funds, other providers will be able to take their place, including municipal systems and electric cooperatives that want to deploy fiber networks."

Sohn is on a bit of a fiber road tour, having earlier in the week spoken at a fiber launch party in Maryland.