Over the last few years, we've started to see gigabit Internet service transform communities. It has provided a platform for economic development and new ways to use technology to improve citizens’ lives. What’s more, where there is competition, it is driving a race between broadband providers, giving consumers higher speeds, greater choice, and lower prices.
The U.S. shouldn’t settle for less than ubiquitous, abundant broadband access. Unfortunately, many consumers don’t have much choice in broadband providers and for most, gigabit Internet is still a dream. Market-based solutions are critical to closing the gap, yet regulation on the federal, state, and local levels has not kept pace with technological innovation. Some regulations, such as those addressing access to infrastructure, fail to remove — and sometimes worsen — barriers to broadband deployment. Policymakers’ top broadband goal should be abundance, which can be brought about by competition, investment, and adoption.
Earlier this year, the Obama Administration created a “Broadband Opportunity Council” of federal government agencies to examine how each agency could remove barriers to broadband deployment. Today, we’re sharing our ideas with the Council in a filing with the U.S. Commerce Department.
Google has always invested in making online content and applications more widely available. We’re also creating more abundant broadband access through services like Google Fiber and wireless projects. Our experience has given us some ideas for how government officials can implement policies to make the U.S. fiber ready, wireless ready, and consumer ready.
One of the biggest challenges facing new broadband entrants, including Google Fiber, is accessing existing infrastructure. Policymakers can help reduce delays associated with obtaining adequate information, attaching to existing utility poles, and increasing access to existing conduit and rights of way. Moreover, we can streamline processes that pole owners and existing attachers use to get poles ready for a new provider (known as “make-ready” work).
Another challenge for new broadband entrants is unreasonably high rates for access to video programming. The FCC's policy of allowing non-cost based discounts under the guise of permitted volume discounts undermines broadband entry and deployment. The policy should be revised to require covered programmers to justify how their discounts for the biggest incumbents relate to actual cost savings. Most consumers want to buy Internet and video programming in one package. Encouraging the competitive availability of video services can spur the deployment of high-speed networks, resulting in more consumer choice.
Wireless service plays a critical role in bringing broadband to rural areas where low population densities and challenging terrain make traditional deployments prohibitively expensive, and to underserved areas that lack robust infrastructure. Whether a consumer uses a DSL, cable or fiber connection, she likely is using Wi-Fi as the last link for connectivity. To promote broadband abundance, policymakers can ensure that sufficient spectrum is available for Wi-Fi and other unlicensed technologies and adopt policies to enable sharing of underused spectrum.
About 30 percent of Americans still don’t use the Internet at home, leaving them at a disadvantage when it comes to education, job opportunities, and social and civic engagement. Google Fiber has committed to address digital inclusion and adoption with community partners and local leaders, but a broader effort is needed to bring all Americans online. As part of our filing with the Commerce Department, we propose a number of ideas for how the government can further broadband adoption and digital inclusion.
These proposals include expanding digital literacy programs; driving public awareness about why the Internet matters; and modernizing the Lifeline program to shift the responsibility for determining eligibility away from carriers to enable consumers to choose connectivity services that meet their needs. These ideas are an essential complement to the work of Google and others to make the Internet faster and more affordable for more people across the country.
A successful agenda to increase broadband deployment and bandwidth abundance will benefit consumers, small businesses and the economy. We hope that the new Broadband Opportunity Council will remove barriers, give Americans more choices at higher speeds, and help reach the goal of nationwide broadband abundance.