FCC wants more Americans with broadband Internet

A teenager uses the Internet on a computer

TEXT OF INTERVIEW

Steve Chiotakis: It's a subtle, if terse, rebuke from the Federal Communications Commission to high-speed Internet providers across the country. The FCC is expected this week to release a report saying broadband access is not being made to Americans in a "reasonable and timely fashion." The agency figures between 14 and 24 million people don't have access to broadband.

Cecilia Kang is a tech reporter for The Washington Post. She's with us live from DC. Hi Cecilia.

Cecilia Kang: Hi Steve.

Chiotakis: Now the FCC says providers aren't boosting their networks all across the country. Are you surprised by this?

Kang: You know, I'm not surprised, in that there's a lot of pressure right now, there's a lot of effort within the federal government to make broadband the underlying infrastructure and communications tool for the nation. And we're falling behind the rest of the world. We're, in many different rankings, way down -- 16, 17, 20 in some rankings -- as far as good quality, fast, robust broadband network deployment goes. So I'm not surprised. And as a consumer, you feel it; capacity is tight sometimes.

Chiotakis: Yeah, there's a lot of territory to cover and a lot of people to cover too in this country. So, are they taking that into account?

Kang: Sure. The U.S. definitely has it's own challenges. It's different than Japan, where it's much more densely populated, it's a small size, and South Korea for example. Still, it's been 11 years since the FCC started tracking how well Internet service providers are bringing out broadband, and still today -- this is the first time the FCC said they're not doing a good enough job, which shows that they've had some time. There's been a lot of obstacles, and it's a complicated problem, but there's also a lot of money that these companies are making.

Chiotakis: How would the money be better spent? I mean, what else could the country be doing to proliferate broadband coverage?

Kang: Washington's a little bit mixed up in this messaging. They care a lot about broadband -- the federal government, the Federal Communications Commission -- but it's still pouring $8 billion a year into a phone fund -- plain, old phone lines that go into your home, copper wire. And some of that money goes to wireless services as well. And that's coming from that monthly charge that everyone gets on their long distance bills and their cell phones -- around $2 to $3 a month -- that goes into an $8 billion fund for phones. So on the one hand, they're saying "we want broadband to get out to everyone, those 14 to 24 million Americans who don't have it today that's fast and good quality." But we're also pouring, still, billions of dollars into the oldest communication tool there is, plain, old phones.

Chiotakis: Plain, old phone lines, and this of course, dial-up, where you hear the noise and all of that. Sounds like a fax machine, right? And is the cure here, the relief, is it fiber optics, is it bigger pipes? What is it.

Kang: I think it's a mix. There's definitely a role for wireless cell phones. There's a role for satellite -- harbinger SkyTerra, for example, announced today that Nokia, they're going to launch a satellite and cell phone network to sell to the other businesses. That's really advancing forward. It's a combination of fiber, and it's also a combination of DSL as well. There's a need and a use for all these different technologies. Just trying to solve that problem of getting everyone covered, and everyone covered with good enough quality and fast enough speed networks.

Chiotakis: Cecilia Kang is a tech reporter for The Washington Post. Thanks Cecilia.

Kang: Thank you.

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