Entertaining the Idea of Open Access.

Ars Technica's Matthew Lasar has a good rundown of what's in the FCC's first national broadband plan status report -- and the total lack of language on open access that has broadband advocates nervous about how ambitious the final plan, due on Obama's desk in mid-February, will be.

One reason why open access's absence from the interim plan stands out is that when Obama campaign veteran Julius Genachowski took over the FCC, his broadband unit quickly called on Harvard's Berkman Center to survey how other countries outside the U.S. have managed to increase broadband access. The resulting report from economist Yochai Benkler and his team focused on one common denominator: open access. Benkler et al cited Japan, Denmark, Sweden, France, the UK, and New Zealand for their practice of separating ownership of Internet networks from the service part of the broadband equation. For the most part, we do things differently here in the U.S. Verizon, for example, both owns the FiOS fiber backbone and provides broadband service. It is under no obligation to let Joe's High-Speed ISP compete on its own networks.

Open access is disruptive (and it doesn't seem entirely clear how applicable line sharing is to a country where people live as as spread out as we do in the U.S). But it's also exactly the sort of big bold telecom policy change that communications reformists were hopeful would be taken very seriously in the Obama era. The FCC did recently focus one of its many workshops on the topic, but why ignore it entirely in the interim report? Not including a single mention of competition-through-access is worrying because it suggests that even Obama's FCC isn't jumping at the chance to question telecom incumbents' role as arbiters of who gets broadband and how. 

--Nancy Scola

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