By: Dr. Kevin T. Kornegay
On February 8, 1996, President Bill Clinton signed into law the Telecommunications Act of 1996 with the intent of ushering in competition in local telephone markets and further opening the long-distance services market to new entrants. Cable companies upgraded their networks in order to provide a bundled voice and video package while a subsidiary of the old AT&T would go on to become the nation’s largest cable television provider.
In 1996, the terms “broadband” and “internet” were not exactly household names. Congress must have been perceptive when it added section 706 of the Telecommunications Act, requiring the Federal Communications Commission and state commissions to encourage the deployment of advanced communications services. This was the era of 2G and 2.5G mobile wireless services, where mobile data speeds ran from 64 kbps to 144 kbps. It was, you know, the good old days where it might take six to nine minutes to download a three-minute song. Since the passage of the Act, consumers have been introduced to 3G and 4G wireless technology and now own phones that provide data transfer rates up to 100 Mbps and high mobile television resolution; a far cry from the phones we owned 25 years ago.
What’s also different today is the emphasis on deploying advanced networks into underserved communities. In the past, public policy promoted increased subscribership to plain old telephone service by Black and Hispanic consumers. A quarter of a century later, with the advent of next generation networks, we need a new regulatory framework that continues to meet the section 706 requirement for deploying advanced networks with emphasis on deploying these advanced networks in our communities.
Next generation networks hold a lot of promise for African American and Latino communities. Next generation networks are the platform for innovation in healthcare, education, and financial services. Policy makers should recognize that demand is increasing in our communities for these new platforms and that this demand is greater than current capacity to deliver services. The approach to more effective policy that encourages more deployment has to be a coordinated effort between local, state, and federal regulators. Policy makers must address various issues from management of the airwaves to rights-of-way management to tower siting.
Here are four specific areas public policy can address:
- Streamlining rights-of-way management. Cities have the ability to speed or slow network deployment. Local governments should develop a unified approach for how they leverage resources for supporting next generation networks.
- Enacting policies that support rapid, cost effective backhaul fiber installation. Examples of such policies include dig-once and progressive micro-trenching. These policies could reduce the costs of facilities deployment.
- Rationalizing pole attachment policies. All states should align their pole attachment policies with those of the FCC to lower costs and enhance efficiency of installing key network components.
- Embracing small cells. Next generation networks will be built using a larger number of antennae than previous networks. This new network configuration will enable smart cities and the Internet of Things.
Policy makers in the 21st century need to make the same commitment to the democratization of network access that they made in the 20th century. The challenge is to move rapidly given the seemingly exponential change in technology and an equally substantial increase in demand for the platforms that enable them. Coordinated local, state, and federal efforts should be designed to ensure communities of color share in the benefits that flow from next generation networks.
Dr. Kevin T. Kornegay is a Professor in the School of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Morgan State University in Baltimore, MD. His research interests include hardware assurance, reverse engineering, secure embedded system design, side-channel analysis, differential fault analysis, radio frequency and millimeter wave integrated circuit design, high-speed circuits, and broadband wired and wireless system design.