Now that the Infrastructure Bill has passed the Senate, we see key provisions included for broadband in America. In fact, a whopping $ 65 billion will go to fund broadband – provided it passes the House this month. But, will investing more money in broadband help address key issues such as bridging the digital divide and making broadband access more affordable for millions of people?
The short answer is: not necessarily. For years, the federal government has provided grants to historic ISPs in the hope that they will solve America’s key broadband problems and that Internet access continues to be a challenge. What we need is a radical broadband overhaul where we can level the playing field for small ISPs to compete in the marketplace and fill in the gaps that legacy ISPs have overlooked for years.
As arrangements for financing broadband infrastructure emerge, it appears that states will have a major role to play in determining how to allocate these resources. And, they need to make careful considerations to help connect the unconnected and meet the needs of their residents. Since access to a robust digital communications network is so critical now – in an era of an ongoing pandemic – states must also look to the future and ensure that they create a sustainable and long-term infrastructure. in the Public interest.
Creation of free-access duct systems
State governments should focus on putting in place key infrastructure, namely conduits, rights of way and utility poles, as these are the biggest hurdles for ISPs looking to expand fiber. Sometimes referred to by professionals as the âzero layer,â the telecommunications market can be transformed with open access conduit systems stretching across the country and expanding locally. A driving highway would be like a highway in which fiber could be easily routed between cities and towns in several states.
An open access conduit system can help create a more accessible market for new ISPs and help fill coverage gaps left unserved by incumbent ISPs. Easier and cheaper access to neutral utility poles would help lower the cost of broadband access and allow providers to easily pull their fiber-optic infrastructure to homes, businesses and wireless towers, especially vital for long distances in rural areas. In New York City, for example, there is a robust competitive market driven by a shared conduit system operated by Empire City Subway.
Although currently limited to the boroughs of Manhattan and the Bronx, this operator neutral system allows multiple ISPs to easily run cables through the streets and provides a route to expand fiber access. optics to other New York neighborhoods. Across the country, open access models are proliferating, notably in Ammon, Idaho, as summarized in a recent report from the Benton Institute for Broadband & Society.
Level the ISP market
By creating open infrastructure systems, more suppliers can enter the market and create increased competition as barriers to entry are reduced. Previously, legacy ISPs received billions of dollars to bridge the digital divide – the divide, along with their market power, persists.
By creating an infrastructure that brings additional private ISPs to the market, states can provide residents and businesses with more choices to meet their Internet needs, which is in everyone’s best interest. More competition also means incumbent ISPs must step up their game and offer the services they boast – or they risk losing market share to private competition. In other words, a lasting and long-term solution.
Adopt the public infrastructure / private service model
When considering a new infrastructure project, the burden of proof often falls on the state. However, with the public infrastructure / private service model, the risk is shared between the State and the ISP. This model allows cities and counties to finance and maintain infrastructure while managing rights-of-way. Additionally, private or incumbent ISPs can guarantee broadband access, including cable, fiber, or wireless. This is a scalable option for communities that do not know how to operate communication networks, but want to own and control key communication assets.
States have a major business ahead of them as they consider how to use their infrastructure funds to boost public works projects. Since the development of broadband infrastructure has been so crucial over the past year, creating an improved market for ISPs through open access infrastructure should be their priority in their long-term public interest. And with a public infrastructure / private service model, the risk will be shared with providers.
Shrihari Pandit is CEO and co-founder of New York area fiber provider Stealth Communications. This piece is exclusive to Broadband Breakfast.
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