FCC chairman Julius Genachowski said transforming the Universal Service Fund into a broadband fund and freeing up spectrum so that mobile wireless is available everywhere are keys to getting the benefits of broadband to small businesses.
That was his message to the Senate Small Business Committee at a broadband oversight hearing Tuesday April 27.
Genachowski said that almost 50% of small businesses don't have access to high speed at all (at least 4 Mbps), and that those that do find too few choices, slow speeds and high prices.
He also said mobile broadband would be a huge generator of economic growth.
Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Me.) said she wanted a timetable from the FCC and others on when high-speed would be deployed. Genachowski said the FCC was preparing to fill out the mileposts between the FCC's five and 10-year plans for broadband deployment.
Subcommittee chair Mary Landrieu (D-La.) said the committee would focus "like a laser" on deploying high-speed broadband.
Democratic Senator Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire asked about the issue of funding competition to incumbents.
NTIA administrator Larry Strickling said he had heard the criticisms and said he did not think they were "serious objections." He said NTIA's goal was to focus on where it could bring the most benefits, including underserved as well as unserved areas.
"An underserved area by definition is an area that has a certain amount of service," he said. But he also said NTIA looks to see how widespread the service is and the speed. "Many places that may see fairly slow consumer speeds may not be providing the high-speed Internet that the anchor institutions like the schools and the hospitals and the government facilities need," he said.
But he also said NTIA was not in the business of funding competitors, arguing that because the projects it was funding were open--with interconnection and nondiscrimination conditions--they could be used by incumbents. Since the program is focused on the backbone or middle-mile component, he said, they do not deliver many services to the home, leaving that to private industry. "When we put that high-speed facility into a community, because of the open network nature of our projects, it is available to everybody including the incumbent. So we are reducing costs potentially not just for the person who recieves our grant money, but also for anybody who alredy provides service in an area..."