From the Boondocks
* The term boondocks refers to a remote, usually brushy rural area; or to a remote city or town that is considered unsophisticated.
I have been following the recent and somewhat confusing discourse on why Claro should be granted an IPTV license. I am surprised at the “turtle-like” speed by which the Telecommunications Regulatory Board is handling this issue. This feud may seem trivial to all of us, but in reality it is not. It drives at the core of our government’s/regulating agencies’ capabilities to understand future trends, opportunities and thus create fair and competitive grounds to drive their deployment.
In today’s world, technology development, investment and deployment run at “lightning fast” speeds, requiring regulatory entities to pick up the pace and act accordingly. We need to foster competition by providing a fair and balanced playing field for cable companies to offer competitive voice and data products, while at the same time allowing telephone companies to pursue the same by adding video products such as IPTV to their menu of services. Both AT&T and Verizon offer IPTV services in the U.S., which have become another alternative for the consumer. I say, allow more competition and let the games begin!
Now let’s address the real issue: both the TRB and the Federal Communications Commission are failing at bringing Puerto Rico into the 21st century when it comes to broadband access, cost and the introduction of services and products to deliver new and exciting IP-based services.
Let’s look at the facts
In December 2010, an article by Henry Rivera — who was an FCC commissioner for four years and has been involved in many aspects of telecom regulation and development during the last 30 years, and has questioned the FCC effectiveness, and the TRB by default, at bringing the island into parity with the rest of the country — titled “All Americans do not have access to broadband services – Have we forgotten Puerto Rico?” was posted on the Broadband & Social Justice website, addressing three key findings of an FCC 2010 study on broadband adoption, which determined the following:
- 1/6 of Americans (3,954,000 people) without broadband access live in Puerto Rico, which accounts for almost the entire island’s population. Surprising, we thought we had broadband!
- Broadband download speeds for Puerto Rico fall below 1.0 Mbps (below that of Mexico and all 33 OECD countries); while U.S. downloads speeds average nearly 3.8 Mbps. Are you familiar with the word “BUFFERING”?
- Puerto Rico has by far the lowest telephone penetration rate of any U.S. state. Prior Census studies suggest the actual telephone penetration rate may lie somewhere between 73 percent and 80 percent, while the local regulator in Puerto Rico, the TRB , estimates the rate at 40 percent. While the rest of the world moves forward, we have decided to go backward!
These three simple statistics bring into question the FCC’s and the TRB’s effectiveness and speed in raising Puerto Rico to the level of the rest of the country as it relates to the state of telecommunication options and adoption to the average Puerto Rican, not to mention the adoption and implementation of the National Broadband Plan (NBP).
So what is the NBP?
Here is a quick definition:
In early 2009, Congress directed the FCC to develop a National Broadband Plan to ensure every American has “access to broadband capability.” Congress also required that this plan include a detailed strategy for achieving affordability and maximizing use of broadband to advance “consumer welfare, civic participation, public safety and homeland security, community development, health care delivery, energy independence and efficiency, education, employee training, private sector investment, entrepreneurial activity, job creation and economic growth, and other national purposes.”
The Plan has more than 370 pages but can be summarized as follows:
(A) The Government and its regulatory agencies can influence the broadband ecosystem in four ways:
- Design policies to ensure robust competition and, as a result maximize consumer welfare, innovation and investment.
- Ensure efficient allocation and management of assets government controls or influences, such as spectrum, poles, and rights-of-way, to encourage network upgrades and competitive entry.
- Reform current universal service mechanisms to support deployment of broadband and voice in high-cost areas; and ensure that low-income Americans can afford broadband; and in addition, support efforts to boost adoption and utilization.
- Reform laws, policies, standards and incentives to maximize the benefits of broadband in sectors government influences significantly, such as public education, health care and government operations.
(B) The plan goes on to recommend that regulatory agencies follow the following four actions:
1. Establishing competition policies. Policymakers, including the FCC and locally the TRB , have a broad set of tools to protect and encourage competition in the market that makes up the broadband ecosystem: network services, devices, applications and content.
2. Ensuring efficient allocation and use of government-owned and government-influenced assets. Government establishes policies for the use of spectrum and oversees access to poles, conduits, rooftops and rights-of-way, which are used in the deployment of broadband networks. Ensuring these assets and resources are allocated and managed efficiently can encourage deployment of broadband infrastructure and lower barriers to competitive entry.
3. Creating incentives for universal availability and adoption of broadband. In other words, all Americans should have access to broadband service with sufficient capabilities, all should be able to afford broadband and all should have the opportunity to develop digital literacy skills to take advantage of broadband.
4. Updating policies, setting standards and aligning incentives to maximize use for national priorities.
(C) In addition to the recommendations above, the plan recommends that the country adopt and track the following six goals to serve as a compass over the next decade.
Goal No. 1: At least 100 million U.S. homes should have affordable access to actual download speeds of at least 100 megabits per second and actual upload speeds of at least 50 megabits per second.
Goal No. 2: The United States should lead the world in mobile innovation, with the fastest and most extensive wireless networks of any nation.
Goal No. 3: Every American should have affordable access to robust broadband service, and the means and skills to subscribe if they so choose.
Goal No. 4: Every American community should have affordable access to at least 1 gigabit per second broadband service to anchor institutions such as schools, hospitals and government buildings.
Goal No. 5: To ensure the safety of the American people, every first responder should have access to a nationwide, wireless, interoperable broadband public safety network.
Goal No. 6: To ensure that America leads in the clean energy economy, every American should be able to use broadband to track and manage their real-time energy consumption.
In the end, the government expects that meeting these six goals will help achieve the Congressional mandate. In particular, the first two goals will create the world’s most attractive market for broadband applications, devices and infrastructure and ensure America has the infrastructure to attract the leading communications and IT applications, devices and technologies. The other goals, meanwhile, will ensure every American has the opportunity to take advantage of the benefits broadband offers, including improved health care, better education, access to a greater number of economic opportunities and greater civic participation, improved public services and even lower energy consumption.
It goes on to state that the broadband networks only create value to consumers and businesses when they are used in conjunction with broadband-capable devices to deliver useful applications and content.
Claro’s IPTV license a must
Claro’s IPTV is a useful application and under the right set of competitive measures, I would say it is a must. Europe has experienced a growth in IPTV based services and in our region companies like Global Crossings are betting big on broadband based media services such video over IP. Services such as IP video-on-demand and user-based content control are generating new and exciting opportunities within this growing segment of the Entertainment industry.
We should not be an island when it comes to accelerating the adoption and deployment of new technologies. Every new technology that brings about competition and new business possibilities is good for the consumer and the economy. Let’s focus on improving Puerto Rico’s telecom arena, bring about new product and services and move our island into the 21st century.