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Date: Nov. 29, 2001
Contacts: Jennifer Wenger, Media Relations Associate
Andrea Durham, Media Relations Assistant
(202) 334-2138; e-mail <>


Prudent Strategy Needed to Jump-Start Broadband

WASHINGTON — To boost public access to broadband technology, the federal government should support new initiatives and monitor developments rather than pursue policies that are premature and could inhibit the market, says a new report of the National Academies' National Research Council. However, once the market takes shape, the federal government may need to step in to help improve service where broadband availability is lacking or to address any abuses of market power that might occur.

"Widespread broadband availability could realize more of the Internet's potential and heighten the usefulness of information technology in people's homes," said Nikil Jayant, chair of the committee that wrote the report and professor of electrical and computer engineering, Georgia Institute of Technology, Atlanta. "Now is the time for government to be patient and let the private sector continue investing in greater deployment of broadband so that more people can — and do — make use of its capabilities. As the shape of broadband deployment and use becomes clearer, we'll have a firmer basis for understanding where the private sector falls short. Policy-makers will then have a clearer idea of what forms of government intervention, if any, may be necessary."

A central finding of the report is the need for the nation to adopt an approach that emphasizes and encourages local opportunities and efforts to bring broadband services to more homes. For example, the federal government could offer planning grants to local governments and support for pilot programs as well as traditional incentives, such as tax credits for companies that invest in underserved or high-cost regions. Local governments could encourage businesses to enter the market by partnering with them to install fiber-optic cables in a locale; they could also make wholesale public investments in the conduits that house fiber-optic facilities, much like a city builds and maintains streets to bolster local commerce. Local public agencies could work with communities and area institutions to stimulate demand for and use of broadband.

A communications tool with the capacity to simultaneously transmit voice, data, and video at high speed, broadband holds the promise of providing consumers with advanced capabilities such as electronic health care applications, real-time participation in meetings via computers, and more interconnected devices within the home. Broadband is commonly defined as a bandwidth that can carry signals at transmission speeds significantly greater than those possible with dial-up modems. Higher speeds to and from the home, plus other advantages such as always being "on" without the need to dial up, are key to broadband's appeal. Today, only about 8 percent of U.S. households subscribe to broadband service. The mix of industries that will supply broadband and the ways that people will use it are not yet fully understood.

Providing broadband service to homes and businesses depends on the transmission methods and hardware of a provider's network. Some service providers build and upgrade their own facilities. Others purchase access to certain elements of a competitor's established facility, such as the copper lines running to a home, to serve subscribers. Allowing access to existing telecommunications networks to provide an alternative service is referred to as "unbundling," which is mandated in the Telecommunications Act of 1996.

Today, most of the available services involve either digital subscriber line (DSL) technology using copper telephone lines, or cable-modem service using hybrid-fiber coaxial cable systems. Other options on the horizon include optical fiber and wireless technology, which may be the best alternative in rural areas. However, broadband does not involve a "horserace" among technologies. All four technologies are likely to contribute to its deployment.

The report favors competition among facilities-based service providers for the long term for several reasons. It requires less government regulation than mandated unbundling, promotes diversity in the kinds of services offered, avoids technical and other problems associated with the unbundling of copper lines, and reduces the disincentive for established providers to innovate and expand their services. The committee recognizes that in some regions, facilities-based competition is unlikely to occur in the foreseeable future. In those cases, unbundling requirements could be relaxed in exchange for significant new investments to increase broadband service, or it could be managed in a different way.

The study was sponsored by a combination of public and private organizations, with the majority of funds provided by the National Science Foundation, Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, and Association of Computing Machinery's Special Interest Group on Data Communication. The National Research Council is the principal operating arm of the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Engineering. It is a private, nonprofit institution that provides science and technology advice under a congressional charter.

Read the full text of Broadband: Bringing Home the Bits for free on the web, as well as more than 1,800 other publications from the National Academies. Printed copies are available from the National Academy Press web site or by calling (202) 334-3313 or 1-800-624-6242 or on the Internet at Reporters may obtain a pre-publication copy from the Office of News and Public Information (contacts listed above).

Division on Engineering and Physical Sciences
Computer Science and Telecommunications Board

Committee on Broadband Last Mile Technology

Nikil Jayant* (chair)
John Pippin Chair in Wireless Systems
School of Electrical and Computer Engineering
Georgia Institute of Technology, and
Director, Georgia Tech Broadband Institute

James Chiddix
Interactive Personal Video Group
AOL Time Warner
Stamford, Conn.

John M. Cioffi*
Department of Electrical Engineering
Stanford University
Palo Alto, Calif.

David D. Clark*
Senior Research Scientist
Laboratory for Computer Science
Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Paul E. Green Jr.*
Director of Optical Networking Technology
Tellabs Inc. (retired)
Hawthorne, N.Y.

Kevin C. Kahn
Intel Fellow, and
Director, Wireless Technology Lab
Intel Corp.
Hillsboro, Ore.

Richard Lowenberg
Executive Director
Davis Community Network
Davis, Calif.

Clifford Lynch
Executive Director
Coalition for Networked Information
Washington, D.C.

A. Richard Metzger Jr.
Lawler, Metzger & Milkman LLC
Washington, D.C.

Elizabeth Mynatt
Assistant Professor
College of Computing
Georgia Institute of Technology

Eli M. Noam
Professor of Finance and Economics
Columbia Business School, and
Columbia Institute for Tele-Information
Columbia University
New York City

Dipankar Raychaudhuri
Wireless Information Network Laboratory (WINLAB)
Rutgers University
Piscataway, N.J.

Bob Rowe
Montana Public Service Commission

Steven Wildman
James H. and Mary B. Quello Center for
Telecommunication Management and Law, and
James H. Quello Chair of Telecommunications Studies
Michigan State University
East Lansing


Marjory S. Blumenthal
Study Director

Jon Eisenberg
Study Director
* Member, National Academy of Engineering