FCC's Gigabit City Challenge should spur business broadband access, says Ciena official

Time for private sector to commercialize government-funded broadband network deployment

Businesses of all sizes should benefit from the Federal Communications Commission's (FCC) effort to spur the deployment of broadband, judged Chris Janson, a public sector industry manager at networking firm Ciena (Nasdaq: CIEN).

Last week, FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski issued the Gigabit City Challenge intended to prompt broadband providers as well as local and state governments to commit to having at least one community with gigabit Internet speed in all 50 states by 2015.

Genachowski told a meeting of the U.S. Conference of Mayors that setting up gigabit communities will accelerate the creation of broadband markets and innovations hubs.

"The U.S. needs a critical mass of gigabit communities nationwide so that innovators can develop next-generation applications and services that will drive economic growth and global competitiveness," the FCC chairman said.

Gigabit Internet speeds enable networks to handle multiple streams of large-format, high-definition content such as online video calls, and spur business creation, Genachowski said.

Ciena's Janson, who also teaches at Northeastern University, said the chairman has laid out a "great vision" but without a lot of details. "In order for businesses to get gigabit or 100 megabit connectivity, they have to pay through the nose. So that limits their ability to do things," Janson told FierceEnterpriseCommunications.

"What the FCC is doing is encouraging startups to offer competitive broadband service that will take advantage of the middle-mile backbones that are being built or already exist around the country. This will have a fertilizing effect. If you have ubiquitous gigabit capability, chances are startups will take advantage of it," Janson said.

There are around 50 middle-mile networks nearing completion in the United States. These networks offer opportunities to provide last-mile products, such as wireless access, to businesses and homes in the vicinity, Janson explained.

Many of these middle-mile networks were developed under the Broadband Technology Opportunity Program (BTOP) created by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act and implemented by the Department of Commerce's National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA).The law provided $4.7 billion in funding to increase broadband access and stimulate demand for broadband services. Among the BTOP projects, NTIA invested $3.5 billion in 123 infrastructure projects to construct broadband networks.  

Many of those projects are coming to fruition, providing opportunities for startups, explained Janson. "What the chairman is saying is that we built this capacity, let's keep that momentum going. I think what he is hoping is that private money will find its way into broadband," he added.

The FCC chairman said the agency is setting up an online clearinghouse with information on how to lower costs and increase speeds of broadband deployment as well as holding workshops on creating gigabit communities. The workshops will include broadband providers and state and local leaders who will meet to develop ways to evaluate barriers to broadband deployment, increase incentives and lower the costs of network deployment.

It is time for the private sector to step up and develop ways for the government-funded broadband networks to translate into higher Internet speeds at the local level for businesses and homes alike.

For more:
- see the FCC's release
- check out NTIA's quarterly BTOP report to Congress

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