Jon Sallet (Benton), Vint Cerf (Google) and Jim Baller (CLIC) address a New Vision for America’s Broadband Future for the 2020s

(L to R) Jon Sallet, Jim Baller and Vint Cerf address a new vision for America’s broadband future

A packed audience in Alexandria, Virginia, listened intently during CLIC’s afternoon event on October 31, as CLIC’s President, Jim Baller, led a fascinating discussion on a new vision for America’s broadband future for the 2020s. This is a moment worth remembering. 

Setting the tone was Gail Roper, Director of National Initiatives for the Knight Foundation, who noted how the Knight Foundation emphasizes the importance of access, and equity as new internet applications unfold. Gail then introduced Jim Baller, who guided Jon Sallet (Senior Fellow at the Benton Institute for Broadband & Society) and Vint Cerf (Vice President and Chief Internet Evangelist at Google) through a spirited discussion of the key components of Jon’s special report for the Benton Institute for Broadband and Society, entitled “Broadband for America’s Future: A Vision for the 2020s.”

As the report notes: “Leaders at all levels of government should ensure that everyone is able to use High-Performance Broadband in the next decade, by embracing the following four building blocks for a National Broadband Agenda: 1) Advancing Broadband Deployment, 2) Promoting Broadband Competition; 3) Ensuring Affordability and Adoption; and 4) Supporting Community Anchor Institutions. The full report can be found here.

CLIC welcomes you to view the full video of this powerful workshop here and provides below a few highlights of this engaging exchange.  (Note: The following are not exact quotations but represent our best recollection of what the speakers said.)

The Goal of the Report:

Jon Sallet: Our report has a very simple goal. By the end of the next decade, everyone in America should be able to have affordable access to high-performance broadband and the ability to use it. Consumers should have robust, competitive choices, over networks that are fit for the future and readily scalable to meet demand that we can’t predict. 

Jon Sallet: If governments are going to spend large sums of money on capital investments in new networks, the best way to ensure that they get the biggest bang for their bucks is to invest in networks that will last—in other words, that are scalable as we look to the future. When we talk to experts, they say that networks capable of providing 100/100 Mbps can typically be upgraded as demand requires. We don’t think it makes sense to make capital expenditures in networks that might become obsolete. For example, in the past, the FCC has put money into networks with lower capacities–say 10/1 Mbps–and then found that such networks cannot meet the FCC’s current minimum definition of broadband—25/3 Mbps.

Vint Cerf: The introduction of high-capacity broadband lifts and enhances everything that you can do with and through the Internet.  In other words, anything you can do to increase broadband capacity and accessibility will increase the capabilities and value of all the applications on the net and will open up new opportunities for new ones. So, I wish you every success. 


Jon Sallet: When we say in the Report that overbuilding enhances competition, we are emphasizing that the mode of analysis should be a competition analysis.  We should be focusing on the ultimate benefits to
consumers, including the competitive benefits resulting from pushing  incumbents to provide better services and to charge competitive prices. Absent some anticompetitive conduct, we believe in a system based on the principle that “The More Competitors the Merrier.”

Vint Cerf: Monopolies should only be tolerated if they can’t be avoided, and when monopolies are unavoidable, they should be subject to meaningful regulatory checks and balances. More important, suppose that a community is served inadequately or not at all by a monopoly. Why on earth should the community be prevented from investing in a network that serves its needs?  If someone is complaining that government shouldn’t compete with the private sector, that’s baloney.

Jon Sallet: The current FCC definition of broadband is 25 Mbps down and 3 Mbps up. So, according to the FCC data, there are something like 10 or 11 million Americans who live in this gap between 10/1 and 25/3… Who are we serving if we don’t use funds available to help bring adequate networks to someone who has say 12/2 service? Who are we helping? The question is, How are citizens going to be best off? They are in a situation where they don’t have what the federal government says is broadband.  So, helping them get on a future-proof network seems to be an unalloyed benefit.

Jon Sallet:  The FCC measures presence of broadband providers and systematically overcounts the presence of competitors….Over 70% of Americans either have no choice for fixed broadband or a monopoly or one choice—that is to say—a duopoly. I am a competition policy guy. We don’t believe two is enough to be fully competitive.

5G as an Option:

Vint Cerf: This is a very peculiar beast for those of you who have been trying to figure out what 5G means. You may perhaps be as confused as I am about the different faces of 5G.  But there is one theme that I do worry about. There are two places, as I understand it, that people are looking at in the spectrum—one in the 28 Gigahertz range and one is down below 6 Gigahertz. The Huawei guys are pushing hard on 6 gigahertz and down, and we in the US seem to be pushing hard on 28 Gigahertz and up.  

Now it’s very attractive to grab a big chunk of 28 Gigahertz signal. There’s a lot of bandwidth there. The problem, though, is that the cell towers have to be much closer together in the 28 Gig space, and they still have to be connected to each other, probably by fiber. So, the cost of the 28 Gig solution may turn out to be substantially higher than we would like.  If that is true, then we have two problems. One of them is, if we build all our equipment for 28 Gigs, we may not be able to sell it anywhere else in the world.  Second, the 28 Gig solution, requiring lots more small cells than the technology the Chinese will be using, will pose many more complex deployment issues.  So, I am a little concerned about where we end up from a policy point of view. 

The Report’s Recommendations:

Jon Sallet: The Report has pages and pages of recommendations. Many of them were based on what people around the country were doing, sometimes successfully, sometimes not.  That’s important because municipalities are serving as what Louis Brandeis called laboratories.” They are trying things out. Sometimes open access middle mile, sometimes retail service, sometimes working with rural electric coops, sometimes working with electric systems, sometimes entering into new forms of partnership between private and public entities. What is important about these recommendations is that they were based on what we saw in operation.