US President Obama's surprising foray into the politics of broadband services is not being warmly greeted by incumbent network operators, many of whom have actively backed the state efforts to keep municipalities from investing in their own fiber optic networks. Coming on the heels of Obama's public statement in late 2014 of his support for efforts to re-regulate the Internet to preserve net neutrality, this latest initiative can be seen as anti-incumbent and even discouraging to investment. (See Obama Rocks Broadband World Again .)
I would like to be encouraged by the fact that broadband is finally taking center-stage in US politics. For 15 years now, it's been the occasional election year slogan at the presidential and congressional level, with all the activity left to the Federal Communications Commission. Let's face it, the FCC really only gets widespread attention when it comes to dealing with ŕ la carte cable programming or cellphone issues.
Unfortunately, some of this increased attention has been immediately linked by industry players to unnecessary and subsidized competition and the possibility of depressed investment.
How would increased municipal investment affect The New IP? I think its impact should be neutral and possibly even helpful to the transition from today's rigid, hardware-based, hierarchical networks to the virtualized, software-based flexible and scalable infrastructure that the telecom industry needs to support the next generation of services.
Here's why: What Obama is addressing -- and asking his FCC to act on -- is the broadband access portion of the network, the last-mile connections to consumers and the aggregation of those connections at the local level. This is the segment of the network that is the riskiest in terms of investment and the most tedious to execute.
That's why many incumbents have worked hard to find ways of delivering broadband access that don't involve building fiber into each customer's home, in the hopes that the customers will reward that investment by buying more services and staying connected. And that's why many municipalities are trying to fill what they see as an investment gap, in hopes of getting fiber into or much closer to businesses and homes, to enable faster Internet access.
If a more productive dialogue can take place about how municipalities can better enable broadband networks to be built -- by opening up rights of way, or funding open access builds, for example -- that's a positive step. Greater access to bandwidth fuels greater adoption of applications which in turn leads to more innovation and broader service deployments.
All of that ultimately supports the drive to make the broader network infrastructure more flexible and software-driven to enable these new service possibilities by creating a bigger audience.
However, if the reaction to Obama's foray into broadband politics is a return to hidebound thinking and access turf wars, then the fallout could lead to delays in the transition to The New IP. I don't think this will happen -- there are too many drivers already in place, not the least of which is competition from Internet players, for telecom network operators to take their eyes off the ball at this stage of the game.
— Carol Wilson, Editor-at-Large, Light Reading