FCC's brave new plan for national broadband

by Arunas A. Chesonis, Chairman and CEO of PAETEC Communications

Innovation, entrepreneurship, and competition are the bedrocks underlying the United States' growth into the world's most vital economy. We in the United States have been fortunate to have American inventors create and entrepreneurs usher in countless technological innovations which have driven productivity and immense benefits for all--from the steam-engine to the airplane or from the rotary phone to VoIP. An innovative new technology is typically hailed by many, but also encounters resistance from others who find the technology disruptive. Sometimes the strongest resistance comes from those that have a vested stake in retaining legacy technology and the market control that affords them.

Government leaders must occasionally chart a course for the nation to allow all citizens to benefit from a technological evolution, reinvigorate our economy, and enhance our status as the world leader in innovation and economic might.  It happened when our government designed and built the interstate highway system. Now our government is poised to transform the information highway. 

As a nation, we're in the midst of a technological evolution in one our nation's most vital industries--communications. Communications, an essential component to our nation's economic engine, have been consolidating into a ubiquitous IP format. In addition to hastening the transformation of "content" industries such as mass media and the arts, the transformation of communications services to an IP format has led to innovative applications and services, creating efficiencies for consumers and business enterprises alike, some of which were unimaginable just a few years ago. 

However, for all to take full advantage of the possibilities from the technology and quickly access content in the digital world, customers need access to reliable high speed broadband connectivity at their homes and businesses. Unfortunately, there has been a fundamental failing in our communications industry. At the urging of the very largest incumbent carriers, years ago the Federal Communications Commission curtailed the competitive opportunities for providing broadband services. They did so by significantly limiting the obligation of these very large carriers to provide economically priced wholesale services to competitors over the infrastructure that had been built over multiple decades of operating in a regulated monopoly environment. 

Not surprisingly, inhibiting broadband competition has hurt the U.S. economy and our access to high speed broadband services. A recent IECD survey found that out of 30 countries evaluated, the United States ranked 15th in broadband subscribers per 100 inhabitants. A separate study by the respected econometric firm ETI issued in February 2010 showed that elimination of those wholesale obligations cost the U.S. jobs and harmed economic growth. As a result, our small businesses have fallen woefully behind their competition located in countries with whom they must compete daily such as Korea, Canada and France potentially costing millions of U.S. jobs and higher costs for all of us. 

But, there's a new vision for our nation's communications. The FCC recently submitted a plan to Congress with recommendations to extend broadband to rural areas as well as envisioning giving more than 100 million households and businesses Internet access at speeds up to 100 Mbps in less than ten years. The proposal would allow small businesses the ability to transmit storehouses of information in seconds, collaborate with others across the world with high-definition video conferencing and fully realize the benefits of the IP-enabled world. Equally important, the plan recognizes the importance of competition amongst broadband providers. New efficiencies gained through wider access to competitively priced broadband will spur businesses to create millions of new jobs in the U.S., make our economy greener, while casting off the shackles of older technology.  

I commend FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski and his broadband team for their leadership on developing a comprehensive National Broadband Plan for the United States and choosing the road towards prosperity for our economy. Our momentum is building and our innovative spirit is strong. With the possibilities that a truly IP-enabled business climate presents, I could not be more optimistic about our nation's future. 

Arunas A. Chesonis is the Chairman and CEO of PAETEC (www.paetec.com) and a special guest FierceTelecom columnist.