- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 20, 2008

The number of U.S. high-speed Internet connections topped 100 million last year, according to a Federal Communications Commission report that said broadband access is available to subscribers in 99 percent of the nation’s ZIP codes.

High-speed access climbed 55 percent from 65.3 million connections in mid-2006, according to the assessment, which measured access data as of June 30, 2007. Nearly 66 million of the total 100.9 million broadband connections serve consumers. Of those connections, 51 percent are through cable, 37 percent are DSL, 2 percent are fiber and the remaining 10 percent are either satellite, fixed or mobile wireless and power line.

The report concluded that high-speed services are being deployed across the country in a “reasonable and timely fashion.”

“Since becoming chairman, I have made broadband deployment the commission’s top priority,” said FCC Chairman Kevin J. Martin at the agency’s monthly public meeting yesterday. “The United States is the largest broadband market in the world and our newest report finds continued growth.”

But the Republican-led agency’s two Democratic commissioners had significant criticisms of the report’s methodology, noting that the FCC’s definition of “high-speed” — anything higher than 200 kilobits per second — is lower than standards used in other countries.

“We can write reports that conclude that Americans are receiving broadband in a reasonable and timely fashion. But the facts are always there, glaring and staring us in the face, showing us where we really stand,” said Commissioner Michael J. Copps, citing findings that the United States is ranked 15th in the world in terms of broadband penetration.

Mr. Copps and his Democratic colleague, Jonathan S. Adelstein, criticized the report for not measuring U.S. progress against other nations and for not including discussions of price. They also bemoaned what they said is a lack of a national broadband strategy.

“It is increasingly apparent that an issue of this importance to the economy and the success of our communities warrants a coherent, cohesive and comprehensive national strategy. The first step in addressing this challenge is to collect better data about the state of the marketplace and to perform a realistic assessment of our success and failures,” Mr. Adelstein said.

The commission yesterday invited public comment on broadband prices and service availability. It also voted to change its data-gathering methodology, expanding the number of high-speed tiers to include faster services, despite a warning from Republican Commissioner Robert M. McDowell that using a rubric of certain speeds to define “broadband” might have unintended consequences.

“Instead of allowing consumers to determine what is a sufficient speed for their desired purposes, the government is drawing an arbitrary line that may favor some technologies that are currently considered ‘broadband.’ While the concept of what is ‘broadband’ should constantly improve and evolve, these decisions are best left to consumers and the marketplace, not unelected bureaucrats,” Mr. McDowell said.

The agency earlier this week announced the end of a two-month-long auction of wireless spectrum that netted $19.6 billion in bids. The airwaves, which will be surrendered by broadcasters in next February’s transition to digital television, are prime for broadband services because they can penetrate walls and travel far distances.

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