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Closed networks hinder internet access

20 октября 2009

US reluctance to force telecoms and cable operators to open their networks to competitors has led to the country being overtaken in rankings of broadband penetration and affordability, according to a study for the Federal Communications Commission.

The study by the Berkman centre for internet and society at Harvard University could strengthen expectations of change in the stance held by the FCC for much of this decade, which contrasted with countries from the Netherlands to South Korea that have “open access” policies. It notes that open access has been “a closed issue in US policy debates” since 2002.

The report’s authors said their “most surprising and significant finding” was that unbundling, wholesaling and functional separation had played core roles in the transition to first-generation broadband access in most high-performing countries.

Pushing incumbent telecoms providers to restructure and open networks was playing an equally central role in planning for the next generation of high speeds and ubiquitous access, it said.

The FCC is not bound by the study and has asked for comments on it, but its publication has been seen as a sign of possible changes under Julius Genachowski, who was confirmed in June as its new chairman.

“This is a sharp departure in terms of sending a signal that we have something to learn from the rest of the world,” said Rebecca Arbogast, an analyst with Stifel Nicolaus. She said it was “too late in the day” to think the US would copy other countries in unbundling networks at regulated prices. She said the findings would make “net neutrality” proposals under consideration at the Commission look “more modest”.

The FCC’s conclusions will inform plans for heavy investment in broadband infrastructure.

Telecoms, technology and content industries are also awaiting the outcome of an FCC meeting planned for October 22, to decide how it will implement “net neutrality” rules aimed at preventing network owners from favouring some content providers over others.

An FCC task force has estimated that between $20bn and $350bn might be needed for wireless and landline infrastructure, depending on what connection and download speeds are desired. More than 70 House Democrats wrote to the FCC this week, expressing concern about net neutrality moves “based on slogans rather than substance” that could hinder companies’ incentive to invest in networks.

The Berkman study ranked countries by price, speed and 3G mobile connectivity as well as penetration, resulting in some highly regarded broadband markets such as Canada, Switzerland and Norway scoring less strongly than expected.

“The highest prices for the lowest speeds are overwhelmingly offered by firms in the US and Canada,” it said.

Источник: Financial Times

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