As I have showed in the previous two columns, those who postulate a race regarding worldwide broadband development are using statistics in a misleading, and in some cases, an intellectually dishonest way. That’s unfortunate, because some of the issues they raise have merit. The misleading rhetoric detracts from the policy discussion. Policies usually have reasons behind them. Why did the South Koreans pump $24 billion in government funds into building a fiber backbone system that could then quickly be connected to a highly dense MDU population base? Was it because they wanted the theoretical telecommunications benefits, such as telecommuting, telemedicine, and all the other quality of life benefits that surfaced in the early 1970’s? (Remember the Sloan Commission Report?) I recently spent a considerable amount of time talking with South Korean leaders about this. They painted an entirely different picture. The South Korean policy decision on broadband came about because of an economic slump in the mid-1990’s that convinced the government it had to pick a way to inject money into the economy, and find something that might also develop exportable technology. Broadband was perfect. The South Koreans even set up an agency focused primarily on export to oversee development of this new IT project. The older, internal telecommunications agency maintains the focus on creating a test bed for export is hurting internal telecom providers, such as cable. They should all be regulated under one agency, it argues. That argument was heard. The IT system now is barred from delivering "live" broadcast video until a new policy is explored. In South Korea telecom policy is focused on export, and there’s nothing wrong with this. Why do you think South Korea is the first country to require its cable industry to adopt the CableLabs OCAP standard? Another test bed. Hey, a sensible policy. But not one that relates to the policies we should have here. What should our policy be? To start, we should not inhibit broadband growth in the private marketplace. Instead, we should make sure all competitors stand on the same ground. Our competitive structure has worked. Our cable systems, whether you call them "hybrid fiber coax" or "fiber to the node," when combined with new channel-bonding technology can deliver data speeds of 100 Mb/s. I am now told our drop cable can deliver 3 Gigabits! The question is not what the technology can do… it is in place to do it. The question is what will we use it for, and how to get the policies to allow that to happen. For video "streaming" we need new digital rights management and copyright policy decisions. We need new business plans by the creators of video product. For telemedicine we need new liability codes and standards (if your x-ray is "read" out of state or even out of country, does the reading doctor have to be licensed in your state?). If we are going to meld wired and wireless services for the benefit of consumers, do current ownership restrictions make sense? Does our spectrum policy make any sense at all? We seem to be wasting our "oceanfront" bandwidth on broadcast television technology that is being relied on less and less. These are the policy questions (and many more) that must be discussed. The infrastructure, thanks in part to the American cable industry, is taking care of itself. It will be ready when needed.

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