Earlier this year I led a group of international colleagues (Big Think Strategies) in the presentation of a range of Big Think Reports to the Obama Transition Team – all in relation to the future of telecoms in the USA.
The trans-sector concept means that an investment in infrastructure should be based on the economic and social multiplier effect of that investment in other sectors such as healthcare, education, entertainment, energy and communications. This demands a high-level of leadership from above the silo structure of the individual sectors.
One of the key reports presented was on Open Networks, utilising some of the open network wholesale principles as they had been developed by the Digital Economy Industry Working Group in Australia.
The Big Think team was very pleased when the Obama Administration at the White House took the lead and included a request for ‘open networks’ in its Broadband Stimulus Package and its Smart Grid Stimulus Package.
At that stage the FCC was still working under the policy structure of the previous government, which had greatly favoured the incumbents – and as a result competition had been shrinking under its regime. New appointments to the FCC would be needed to bring the telecoms policies more into line with those supported by President Obama and his team, who understood the trans-sector benefits of a national broadband network.
However, such a regulatory transition takes time and some people in the USA became disappointed with the rather small changes that were taking place in the wake of the Broadband Stimulus.
I always saw this Stimulus as a policy-setter rather than an end goal – let’s be honest, $7.2 billion is a very small figure when applied to the American telecoms industry, which is worth more than a trillion dollars. It has always been my understanding that this was a one-off policy decision and I was confident that the Administration would make sure that the new FCC, under its leadership, would have to take over broadband policy-making.
However, very importantly, the direction was set by the original Obama Transition team, key members of the group who said ‘Yes We Can’. And so the Big Think group presented the Obama Team (as well as the governments of Australia, New Zealand and the Netherlands) with a report on the trans-sector concept.
The feedback that we have received has always been very positive; for instance, the White House publicly indicated its interest in the Australian NBN model and the way it was applied on a trans-sectoral basis.
Australia has embarked on a National Broadband Plan that will see a US$36 billion FttH infrastructure investment linked to a trans-sector strategy that will use this investment for e-health, smart grids, smart infrastructure and e-government services as well as for entertainment and high-speed Internet access.
As a sign that the new FCC is getting on top of the issue it has now asked for submissions to its FttH Research Project with the following stated purpose:
To explain the policy rationale for embracing a national goal for the accelerated deployment of FTTH over the next decade because the economic and social benefits of such accelerated deployment far outweighs the costs.
While the term trans-sectoral isn’t used, the FCC specifically asks for submissions to address issues in relation to the FttH and applications in the areas of:
- Energy independence through efficiency
- CO2 reduction through reduced travel
- Medical cost reduction
- Improved medical care
- Improved homeland security
- Improved education.
It is also looking at developments in Japan, Korea, Australia, New Zealand, and U.K.
There will no doubt be a strong lobby from the incumbent telcos, arguing that the market should be left as it is and that they will look after these issues, as long as they are receiving the right regulatory protection (eg, a monopoly). However there is a rapidly growing groundswell of people who are using this new opportunity to argue for significant changes that would speed up the deployment of a national open FttH network based on its trans-sectoral benefits.
The incumbents argue that open networks constitute state interference, which would be unconstitutional. The only conclusion that can be reached, however, is that government policies from the past are now interfering with this ‘open’ development – negative factors such as the monopolistic models needed for scarce resources, which were developed in a different era and have now outlived their usefulness.
An open network policy would be a way of cancelling out past state interference that has produced a state of affairs that is no longer acceptable in a modern open society.
This will no doubt be a very interesting discussion but in my view the outcome will have to be an open network that will be able to deliver nationwide first-class broadband-based services to its citizens,
Americans shouldn’t ask for anything less.
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