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'Net Insider:

Will the bits ever make it home?

By Scott Bradner
Network World, 12/10/01            

The Computer Science and Telecommunications Board of the National Academies of Science has produced a careful study of the promises and difficulties inherent in the pursuit of widespread broadband deployment. The board concluded that such deployment would be good to have, but it won't be easy to get there.

Like the board's previous endeavors, "Broadband: Bringing Home the Bits" is on the Web.

The committee didn't have an easy time, in no small part because the telecommunications world changed so much during the course of the year and a half that it worked on the study. The telecom world was a lot sunnier when the board started than when it finished.

The committee compiled a number of key questions that needed to be addressed, including:

*                What is broadband?

*                Why do people need it?

*                How much demand is there?

*                How important and urgent is the development of broadband?

*                What is the likely shape of broadband development in the coming years?

*                Is the pace of development reasonable and adequate, or are there failures that necessitate intervention?

*                How will deployment be paid for?

*                How might the present policy regime for broadband be made more effective?

The board provided answers to these questions.

In what I have read of the report so far, the board seems to be just as puzzled as I've been about how a company can actually make money as an ISP. The board warns that one tact ISPs could take - getting into the content business and providing restricted semi-Internet services - would be counter to the aim of the flexibility inherent in today's Internet service.

One theme the report comes back to more than once is that whenever regulations are felt to be needed - we can disagree when they are actually needed - the regulations should be service-based, not transport technology-based. What difference does it matter how Enhanced 911 (emergency phone service that reports the caller location) is done as long as it provides the appropriate information, and why should regulations for coaxial cables be different just because they are coaxial?

The board makes seven specific recommendations, some of which have subrecommendations. I will not go through all of them, but a few are worth highlighting.

In spite of all the furor in Washington, D.C., the board writes it is too early to work on a universal service plan for broadband. It's better to wait until we at least know what broadband is. In a recommendation that is bound to be controversial, the board says cable and phone infrastructures should be regulated in the same way and not by forced unbundling.

All in all, the report is an interesting piece of work. It would be good if the people who asked for it (such as the U.S. government) actually follow its guidance.

Disclaimer: The U.S. government does not even follow Harvard's guidance and the above book report is my own rambling

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