December 19, 2001
Ms. Josephine Scarlett
Office of the Chief Counsel
National Telecommunications and Information Administration
1401 Constitution Avenue, NW
Room 4713 HCHB
Washington, DC 20230
RE: Request for comments on deployment of Broadband Networks
and Advanced Telecommunications Services
Docket No. 011109273-1273-01
Dear Ms. Scarlett:
The United States Chamber of Commerce (“U.S. Chamber”) commends the National Telecommunications and Information Administration for initiating this inquiry into the Deployment of Broadband Networks and Advanced Telecommunications Services. The U.S. Chamber is the world's largest business federation, representing more than three million businesses and organizations of every size, sector and region.
Certainty, confidence, some sense of the future direction – all of these contribute to the investment, innovation and marketing that will be necessary for the development of future markets for broadband and advanced telecommunications services. The U.S. Chamber applauds NTIA’s initiative to promote broadband investment and usage.
We anticipate that many commenters will address broadband in relation to existing products, services, service providers and technologies. The U.S. Chamber, however, is especially interested in the overarching question that frames the debate for the development of policy that will govern the future:
What should be the primary policy considerations in formulating
broadband policy for the nation?
The question looks to the future. It seeks guideposts for choosing among alternative courses as policy questions arise.
The U.S. Chamber believes that the guideposts for the future should point the way to a nation where robust competition among multiple technologies and service providers drives deployment, price, innovation and customer service in the delivery of advanced telecommunications services. The guideposts should point to a path where investment in facilities is encouraged and the potential financial rewards are commensurate with the capital that has been risked. The guideposts should point away from paths where businesses and customers are disadvantaged because their business is too small or their location is too rural (or too urban).
Broadband services have already resulted in the creation of new business and channels of business, new employment opportunities, improved convenience and productivity, and expanded customer choices. Most of these services, however, are merely online versions of familiar offline activities. Advanced telecommunications services, as these services will be delivered in the future, can hardly be imagined. For this reason, policy makers should be cautious at a time when broadband services are truly in their infancy.
A market-driven approach to advanced telecommunications service policy is greatly preferable to a regulatory approach. Regulation (and enforcement) that responds to some imbalanced condition in the marketplace will probably always be necessary. But forward-looking policies should avoid making choices among existing and competing technologies and service providers. For this reason, the primary policy of the United States with regard to the future marketplace for broadband and advanced telecommunications services should emphasize competitive marketplace mechanisms to govern services and prices.
In developing broadband and advanced telecommunications policy, NTIA is not writing on a clean slate. For example, sharing, reselling and unbundling mechanisms that are fixtures of current telecommunications policy play an important role in today’s telecommunications marketplace and they may do so for some time to come. Existing providers of today’s telecommunications services have been shaped by a complex interrelationship of factors that include decades of statutes, regulations, and developments in technology. These companies and their shareholders must be dealt with fairly.
Broadband policy should not favor any particular technology platform. Existing versions of broadband services are being provided over a handful of well-known technologies, most of which have been adapted from some other purpose. DSL, for example, is an enhancement to voice telephony infrastructure. Similarly, cable modem service is an adaptation of cable television technology and infrastructure. Satellite-based Internet services developed initially as a complement to subscription video.
Technology Neutral (Continued)
Broadband technology platforms can be expected to continue to evolve from existing and emerging technology platforms. It is possible, however, that a new and original broadband infrastructure may be conceived, invented, and developed. For example, candles and oil lamps were important technologies in residential lighting, but the electric light bulb did not build on these technologies. Instead, electric lighting technology required an entirely new infrastructure. If there had been a National Residential Lighting Administration in existence prior to Thomas Edison’s experiments, it is safe to say that it could not have imagined the electric power infrastructure.
The marketplace must be and remain a fertile ground for innovation. It can only remain such if competing technologies are allowed to come to market and be judged according to the quality and price of the services they support. It would be a mistake, therefore, to adopt policies that favor or have the effect of favoring one technology platform over another.
In this inquiry, NTIA has asked about the relevant importance of intra-modal and inter-modal competition. The U.S. Chamber suggests that competition should be encouraged in all its forms so that market regulation will no longer be necessary. Traditional distinctions are blurring and becoming largely irrelevant: voice and data are indistinguishable in the emerging digital world. However, the importance of competition remains. Enlightened broadband policy should aim to keep the fundamentals of innovation intact no matter what technology is used, or by whom.
Services including Internet access (especially connectivity with web-based applications), “content” (i.e., information, entertainment, etc.), local and long-distance voice communications (including mobile communications), some form of paging, e-mail, and many more, may be delivered by companies under one brand, using several modes. For instance, mobile communications, including cellular-like service and some form of message alerting or paging, will require a wireless mode. Other services, such as a video-on-demand service will require a much more robust mode, which today includes a fiber-optic or satellite-delivered mode.
Broadband policy, therefore, should support a range of technologies, hopefully with a view toward encouraging multiple, competing providers of multi-mode service.
The providers of today’s rudimentary forms of broadband services are largely associated with a particular technology platform. Those platforms carry with them decades of regulation. When a marketplace is governed effectively by competitive dynamics, however, the government should seek to minimize regulatory burdens. Free market competition is the best form of “regulatory parity.” Any policy guideposts established by the government should ultimately seek to empower customers, not regulators.
The broadband and advanced telecommunications service policy of the United States should seek to ensure broad, affordable access to broadband by all users.
Internet connectivity has already improved productivity, generated new jobs, facilitated new channels of commerce and reduced prices. Broadband and advanced telecommunications services hold the promise of further such benefits, as options like teleconferencing, telecommuting, distance learning, remote monitoring and distance medicine, to name but a few, come more on stream. The nation as a whole will benefit from the most widespread deployment of broadband to support these applications. At future choice points, paths that lead to a ubiquitous deployment and availability of broadband and advanced telecommunications service are to be preferred.
Facilities Based Services
On September 11, 2001, the nation learned the value of diverse modes of telecommunications. Where wirelines were destroyed, wireless compensated. Where voice traffic overwhelmed circuits, e-mail kept people in touch. Where one company’s lines were destroyed, another’s lines were available. This is a lesson that in it constitutes a guidepost for future broadband policy. Sound national policy demands multiple service providers and multiple networks of mixed facilities to provide broadband and advanced telecommunications services.
Future broadband networks will probably be built with private, invested capital. National broadband policy should encourage such investment and hold out the prospect of a return that is commensurate with the magnitude of the risk.
A clear statement by NTIA of guiding policy principles will continue the process of establishing clear guidelines to promote the deployment and adoption of broadband services. With the right policies in place, companies will have the confidence to invest in the necessary research and development, to invest in the delivery infrastructure and to aggressively market an array of new services.
Our member companies appreciate the thoughtful attention you are giving to the issue of broadband deployment.
William L. Kovacs