Creative new initiatives by governments can help expand “last mile” broadband connections to homes and businesses, according to some speakers at a panel discussion yesterday in Washington, D.C., hosted by the UW’s Center for Internet Studies.
The panel of broadband experts focused on new initiatives in Washington state resulting from bipartisan legislation signed by Gov. Gary Locke in 2000 that empowered Public Utility Districts (PUDs) to build and wholesale advanced telecommunications services to private sector service retail providers.
“Washington state is a leader in public-private broadband partnerships,” said Rex Hughes co-director of the UW Center for Internet Studies. “Communities are making investments in hopes of stimulating new economic development in local knowledge industries.”
Hughes described PUD efforts underway in Grant, Mason, Benton and Kitsap counties. His Center for Internet Studies was awarded a grant in April by five cities and two tribes to assist with shaping a deployable vision for countywide next-generation broadband.
The five cities will turn on the first phase of a fiber-optic Internet backbone at a public unveiling July 30 at the Admiral Theater in Bremerton. At the same time, the UW will host a policy workshop with the Kitsap Regional Coordinating Council, Kitsap PUD, local elected officials and the Washington state congressional delegation on “Connecting Kitsap to the Knowledge Economy.”
At yesterday’s “Broadband or Bust” session of the Internet Society’s INET2002 conference in the nation’s capital, Hughes emphasized the need to “consider the impact of disruptive technologies” such as gigabit Ethernet to the home and WiFi 802.11 wireless protocols that have the potential to create a new threshold of performance and offer an open platform for locally sourced digital content and next generation Web services.
But the question of the government’s role provoked the most debate.
Jim Snider, a Markle Fellow at the New America Foundation cited the failure of the 1996 National Telecom Act to foster meaningful competition to accelerate broadband deployment.
Snider emphasized the need to create a new policy framework that restricts the ability of telecom “incumbents” to strangle innovation, and for local governments to re-engineer local franchise agreements that currently “severely hamper investment by new competitors.”
Government has an important role in facilitating a broadband economy, added Sharon Nelson, director of the UW Center for Law Commerce and Technology and former chairwoman of the Washington State Utilities Commission. She emphasized that the experiments underway in Washington may result in “more choices for today’s consumers.”
But Jeff Eisenach, president of the Progress and Freedom Foundation, expressed concern over government involvement in the build-out of broadband infrastructure.
“In most cases,” he said, “government just needs to get out of the way.”
Management of wireless spectrum by the Federal Communications Commission needs major reform, he added, and Congress should “re-think the existing ownership rules to fit the new paradigm.”