Seybold: How the next administration can build broadband for all

We now know that the next Chairman of the FCC will likely be Julius Genachowski, assuming he is confirmed by Congress. With his credentials, I believe he will be confirmed quickly. As he and the other commissioners (yet to be named) begin looking at what has been left on their plate, there will be plenty of issues to be addressed: the DTV transition date and the administration's request to delay it, which I believe will be detrimental to those who have paid for the spectrum at auction and the first responder community; the unlicensed white space issue, which could end up in court; and then, of course, the auction of the AWS-3 spectrum for a nationwide broadband system that would provide 25 percent of its bandwidth for free to all who live and work in the United States (or at least 95 percent of us).

I am a long-time critic of using the AWS-3 spectrum for this type of nationwide broadband system. It makes no sense to take 10 years to build a network that covers 95 percent of the U.S. population when it can be done with a combination of existing technologies in a shorter timeframe and for less money. I propose that we instead use existing resources that are available in urban and rural areas of our country, and that we figure out a way to provide broadband coverage for the 24 percent of the population who do not have broadband service available to them, as well as the 9 percent who have only dial-up speeds available.

This means that of the 303 million of us, about 100 million do not have broadband capabilities. But, and this is a big but, some of these 100 million live in areas where they have a choice of wired, cable, and wireless broadband and, for mostly economic reasons, have declined to subscribe to a service. The remaining portion of the non-broadband population lives in rural America where the population per square mile makes it economically challenging to provide service.

I recently published a white paper entitled, "Broadband for All Americans," which is available for free here. This white paper was not produced under contract for any client, so the conclusions drawn are my own, based on my observations and ideas. The main thrust of the paper is that we have been looking at providing broadband for all in the wrong way. Those pushing the concept seem to believe we need a single network to accomplish this goal. I disagree. Building a new network for $20 billion or $40 billion and taking 10 years to do so is not the answer to providing broadband for more of us. The answer is in finding economic solutions for two very different groups: those who have broadband running down their street but cannot afford it, and those who can afford it but do not have access to it. Until we view the solutions to providing broadband in economic rather than technology terms, we will not make much progress, even with an administration that is pushing for broadband for all.

Those promoting free Internet access are using erroneous examples of other "free" services. When they say our highways are free, therefore access to the Internet should be free, they are not looking at the whole picture. We do pay for access to our roads since we have to buy a car, pay the registration, and buy gas that includes local, state, and federal taxes, and part of our income taxes are used to maintain and build roads. In the brick-and-mortar world, we have free access to all sorts of things along our roads, but we pay to use the roads. Likewise, in the Internet world, we pay for access to the Internet-dial-up, DSL, cable, wireless or other access. When we use a "free" WiFi access point, someone else is paying for our access. Those demanding free access to the Internet are confusing free access to many of the sites along the Internet highway with paid access to the Internet highway itself.

Andrew Seybold is an authority on technology and trends shaping the world of wireless mobility. A respected analyst, consultant, commentator, author and active participant in industry trade organizations, his views have influenced strategies and shaped initiatives for telecom, mobile computing and wireless industry leaders worldwide. For more, see