Getting To Gigabits

gigabit speed

For the better part of two decades, cable internet providers have focused on building, operating, and improving the physical infrastructure that supports high-speed, consumer internet service. Over two decades and four iterations of a technology platform called DOCSIS, cable internet providers alone have invested over $250 billion in private capital to build speed at a scale that extends to 93 percent of American households.

But the work is far from done. As consumer demand for internet service continues to explode, so too must the capabilities of wired and wireless networks. That is why cable internet providers hope to invest an estimated $90-100 billion in additional private investment over the next five years to make gigabit networks – the next frontier in residential broadband service –the norm. Certainly, cable is not alone in this effort, as other existing network providers also will play a meaningful role in creating new services and expanding America’s technological leadership.

This is not to minimize the challenge of getting gigabit access to all. In a country as vast as ours, there are inherent economic challenges to achieving ubiquitous access, but there are also constructive actions that policymakers can take to remove unnecessary red tape, to promote a level playing field among competing providers, and to enhance continued private investment in broadband networks.

When considering policies that will advance the deployment of next generation broadband across the country, we think three overarching goals should be top of the list:

Restore the primacy of “light touch” regulation for broadband. 

Broadband investment began to accelerate with the establishment of a policy framework in the late 1990s which ensured that internet access service would not be subject to outmoded, common carrier regulation under Title II of the Communications Act. The specter of public utility regulation that has hovered over broadband after it was reclassified as a Title II service in 2015 has hampered investment and slowed the roll-out of advanced services and capabilities. We can encourage the rapid deployment of gigabit technology by restoring “light touch” regulation for broadband.

Remove unnecessary barriers to gigabit upgrades in local communities. 

As NCTA recently explained in FCC comments, gigabit upgrade projects can sometimes be unreasonably delayed through complex and protracted local permitting requirements and rights-of-way access terms and conditions that are excessively burdensome or tilted in favor of some providers. A reasoned approach to local permitting and rights of way that promotes efficient action and a level playing field will expedite the transition to gigabit technology. Additionally, exorbitant costs charged by pole owners for the attachment of facilities should be rationalized and reduced, and the process of attaching facilities to poles should be streamlined in a manner that balances the interests of all parties.

Target broadband subsidies to unserved areas. 

We need a smarter approach to existing government broadband funding programs – one that focuses on targeting taxpayer-funded broadband subsidies only to those areas where broadband service is unavailable from privately-funded networks. As detailed in a recent NCTA issue brief, scarce federal dollars should be directed to unserved areas, because providing taxpayer funding for broadband in areas that already are served by an unsubsidized broadband provider discourages private capital investment and innovation.

Broadband providers are excited about the promise of gigabit services and capabilities, and we are confident that these common sense measures will accelerate the timetable for delivering that promise to local communities across the nation.