Broadband deployment is all about economics.
We have a new president, a new FCC chairman (pending Senate confirmation), the rest of the FCC commissioners will be named soon, and soon we will see exactly what our president has in mind for the next bailout and how it turns out once Congress has passed it.
Recently, several articles have been written about the amount of money that should be allocated to providing broadband for everyone. The Public Safety Spectrum Trust (PSST) has requested $15 billion to help build the shared 700-MHz D Block and public safety system, and most recently, Sprint has offered to provide a nationwide emergency communications system for a mere $2 billion. And then there is Intel’s push to convince the new administration that WiMAX is THE solution for all of our wireless ills.
BILLIONS IN PLAY
The amount of money being talked about for broadband is between $5 billion and $50 billion, depending on whom you listen to, and it would be used for fiber, wireless, cable, DSL extension and satellite, or used for a single nationwide network employing the AWS-3 spectrum. I recently published a white paper entitled, Broadband for All Americans, which is available for free here.
We already have plenty of technologies to solve the broadband problem. What we are lacking are sound business models and the ability for those who build out networks in rural America to see a return on their investment. The second economic issue concerns urban America, where almost everyone has access to broadband in one form or another but those without the economic means to afford it are doing without.
I am in favor of an investment from the government when it comes to the PSST request for $15 billion to help build out a nationwide or series of regional broadband networks for shared commercial/public safety use. I would use $10 billion to help the successful D Block winner build a network that has more hardened sites and covers more of the United States than a commercial network operator could afford to build. This would also shorten the time it would take to deploy this network and put it into operation. I would use the remaining $5 billion to buy radio equipment for first responders that is designed to operate on their existing 700 and 800-MHz channels with the new 700-MHz broadband network built in. This would make it easier for first responders to get onto the network and reduce the number of radios required in their vehicles and/or on their person.
Sprint’s request for $2 billion to provide an interoperable network and stage COWs and handheld units in many locations for disaster use sounds like a way for it to uncouple from the Nextel network, or at least mitigate some of the losses it is incurring from the ongoing operation of this network. I am not at all sure about the price tag here but have always thought it would be interesting to have the 700-MHz D Block available for data and the Nextel iDEN network available for interoperable voice – the Nextel technology could be built into the same radios described above. The Nextel network would need to be beefed up, but if we had both voice and data networks, the 700-MHz broadband network could be deployed on existing Nextel sites and additional sites could be built for both networks.
WHOSE BEST INTERESTS?
As for Intel pushing the administration toward WiMAX as the solution for everything wireless, I don’t blame it for trying. It wants to protect a huge investment in WiMAX and gain more acceptance so it can sell more embedded WiMAX chips, but there is no one technology that can be all things to all people, and our nation does better when we let the market forces determine which technology will be used by whom.
This said, I would not be at all surprised if Intel and partners were to try to win the 700-MHz D Block auction and declare for WiMAX, even though this would not be in the best interests of the first responder community in either the short or long term.
I will say it again: Solving our broadband problems and providing first responders with the interoperability they need is not about technology, it is about economics. I think this new administration gets it.
Seybold heads Andrew Seybold, Inc., which provides consulting, educational and
publishing services. For more information, visit www.andrewseybold.com.
Filed Under: Infrastructure