100 questions about 100 Squared

The Federal Communications Commission still gets about another month of winter to remain in its hole and develop a realistic national broadband plan, but FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski stuck his head out this week, squinted into the sun and suggested we will skip spring and go right into the happy, sun-bathed days of summer (I know, shaky metaphor and Groundhog Day was, like, weeks ago, but indulge me).

Genachowski presented a lofty "100 Squared" (100 Mbps to 100 million homes) vision for U.S. broadband. Perhaps in a month, we will get a lot more details on the how, why and what of this plan, but for now:

- Will 100 Squared give some carriers a license to print money via "ultra-premium" services, while others can't make business sense out of it?

- What's the business model? This is the most important question for the companies tasked to meet the 100 Squared vision. The speed goal may be achievable for some broadband service providers, but even 50 Mbps services you see nowadays are not exactly affordable for the average household.

- What about universal broadband? Why 100x100? How about a more tempered broadband speed goal for a greater number of households? Not to say that 100 million homes on 100 Mbps access isn't a grand, wonderful idea for the future, but how far does it really go to solving the under-served problem?

- What's the Google tie-in? Genachowski's statements this week came just a few days after Google's 1 Gbps broadband plan, for which Genachowski expressed obvious admiration. Did the FCC want Google to grease its path a bit with an even loftier idea, or did Google want paint its own vision first, knowing that Genachowski's comments were coming? Google's plan conveniently gave Genachowski an example of the sense of ambition he expects from service providers, but the scope and future of Google's plan is not exactly set in stone.

- Who will the new competitors be? On a related note, other than Google, who will stir the competitive stew Genachowski is hoping for? Are there a bunch of extremely wealthy broadband entrepreneurs out there that I don't know about who were just waiting for someone like the G-man to invite them in the front door?

- How should service providers react? Already we have seen some reports (mostly unidentified sources) of service providers calling the 100 Squared vision unrealistic, while others have seemed cautiously open-minded. I guess the initial reactions suggest who thinks 100 Mbps is achievable-as a technology goal and a business-today on a broad scale, and who doesn't. For some, remaining silent might be wise if it seems like they can make 100 Mbps an ultra-premium service endorsed by the FCC. Ultimately, will 100 Squared allow the biggest carriers to put more distance between them and the competitors the FCC says it is trying to inspire?

- What should vendors do to prepare for 100 Squared? It's very difficult right now for vendors not to get too giddy about the idea that the FCC will coax service providers toward broadband goals that will require more investment and technology spending. But, you can't take Genachowski's statements to the bank or to investors--at least not yet. As with the broadband stimulus program, it might be time again to fall back on the well-worn phrase "cautious optimism."

- When is 100 Squared expected to be a reality? Who will be penalized and how if the goal is not met? How specifically does the 100 Squared idea tie in with the FCC's so-called "2020 Vision?" A more aggressive timeline might be tough, but 2020 gives us a good 10 years to sort through these questions, and to change our expectations.

- What are the chances all of these questions will be answered next month when the FCC presents its broadband plan?

OK, that's not really 100 questions about 100 Squared, but I'll bet you have a few more yourself.--Dan

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