Why Our Broadband Policy's Still a Mess

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By Jim Hu Staff Writer, CNET News.com Broadband is booming, DSL prices are dropping and cable modem speeds are increasing without additional charge.

But to Michael Copps, one of two Democrats on the five-member Federal Communications Commission, that's not enough. As a policy-maker, Copps is outraged that the United States isn't near the top of countries with broadband penetration. While admitting the difficulty in comparing the United States with Japan, Korea or Norway, Copps also voices the growing restlessness of government officials who fret about the private sector's ability to ensure that all Americans get access to broadband.

Big changes are reshaping the telecom industry. Giant mergers--SBC Communications acquiring AT&T, Verizon Communications swallowing MCI--raise huge questions about how consumers will be affected. More local-government efforts to create their own broadband networks are facing fierce resistance from the Baby Bells and cable companies such as Comcast.

Calling broadband "the most central infrastructure challenge facing the country right now," Copps is wrestling with how to turn the United States into the most connected country in the world. Can private industries do it themselves, or will it take a regulatory prod to get there? Copps recently spoke with CNET News.com about these issues, as well as the recent complaints of Internet phone service Vonage that it's not getting a fair shake from local phone companies.

I think we do a grave injustice in trying to hobble municipalities. That's an entrepreneurial approach, that's an innovative approach. Why don't we encourage that instead of having bills introduced--"Oh, you can't do this because it's interfering with somebody's idea of the functioning of the marketplace." And then the marketplace is not functioning in those places.

The Bells say that government should not be competing with the private sector. They are not out there trying to put broadband in the municipality. Where is the competition?

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How to Distribute VoIP Throughout a Home:
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