Levin's Broadband Formula: Reach 97% Of Unserved For $10 Billion

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Former Federal Communications Commission broadband czar Blair Levin says he has a formula for deploying broadband to 97% of the remaining unserved homes in 10 years for $10 billion.

The government has just finished allocating almost $7 billion in stimulus funds to promote deployment to unserved and underserved areas, but Levin says that infusion "will not be sufficient to ensure that all people in the United States have access to and can enjoy the benefits of universal digital citizenship."

Levin, who exited the FCC last spring, outlines his approach in a new paper for The Aspen Institute, where he is a fellow. The paper is being presented as part of the Aspen Institute Communications and Society Program, "Universal Broadband: Targeting Investments to Deliver Broadband Services to All Americans."

Levin points out that the FCC has concluded that there are about 7 million housing units (about 5% of the total) without access to the 4 Mbps downstream/4 Mbps upstream he says should be the threshold for government support of broadband. The FCC pegs the cost to reach all those homes with wired broadband at $32.4 billion, with a revenue projection of only $8.9 billion, leaving a $23.5 billion gap.

But Levin maintains that about just 250,000 homes account for $13.4 billion, which he would serve with satellite broadband because it is too expensive to wire them, leaving the government with $10 billion needed to reach all the rest.

Levin, whose National Broadband Plan included migrating Universal Service Funds to broadband support, notes that $10 billion could come from repurposing existing USF funds. He recommends reducing or freezing funds to existing carriers, funding only single carrier and and only where is no business case for deployment absent a subsidy.
Levin believes the FCC should create a broadband mobility fund. The FCC has actually slated a vote for a rulemaking proposal to create such a fund at its next public meeting. Not a big surprise since it was one of the USF changes proposed by Levin's National Broadband Plan.

Levin says another key is adoption by low-income citizens, which includes not only cost but factors or relevance and digital literacy.

A number of his suggestions mirror FCC moves already underway, including establishing low, uniform pole attachment rates and reforms for right-of-way dispute resolution.

Levin's proposals were by way of suggesting how to implement a Knight Commission recommendation that all Americans need access to high-speed broadband and its diverse sources of information. According to Knight, that includes mobile access and speeds capable of delivering high-definition video.