[bestbits] Followup datapoints after State Department call

Dave Burstein daveb at dslprime.com
Tue Dec 1 11:17:04 EST 2015


I wanted to clear up some misconceptions that came up in the call, by a
diplomat doing what diplomats do. If I have any of this wrong, please get
back to me. I still make mistakes after 16 years in broadband.

It's seriously counterproductive for the U.S. to keep telling poor
countries what to do in their own country. 2/3rds of the world voted
against us at the WCIT, for example, showing the depth of the resentment.
The people we send generally know far less about building broadband
networks than the people actually building them; our advice is often

1) That "we should share lessons from the success of the American USF
It's generally agreed by anyone independent that the American USF program
has done a terrible job of bringing broadband to rural areas. Really. If
you don't believe me, consult Scott Wallsten (Chief Economist of the U.S.
broadband plan), Greg Ross of Stanford, or Tom Hazlett  of George Mason.
They are the top academics in this field. (German regulator Matthias Kurth
showed how to do it better.)

2) That we could find a way to incorporate net neutrality into the U.S.
proposal. (Almost all the participants strongly supported it.) Manu
couldn't do that without a complete turnaround in current State Department
policy. The U.S., since at least 2012, has taken a strong position against
including Net Neutrality in Internet governance. We made sure to keep it
out of the ITU treaty, successfully pressed to not have it included in Net
Mundial, and opposed it in the WSIS draft.

The State Department position on neutrality, presented most effectively by
Julie Zoller, is that we didn't think governments should get involved so it
didn't belong in the governance meetings. I pointed out that Barack Obama
was a strong supporter of neutrality and it was in his campaign platform.
There was extensive back and forth in ITAC.

3) That the U.S. should educate poorer countries on creating an enabling
environment, especially through competition. I love solving problems
through competition. It is actually working quite well in most major cities
in the developing world. Everyone can see it, so they don't need the U.S.
to educate them. Africa and India are both about to pass the U.S. in number
of Internet users.

With 4G networks rapidly deploying to nearly all major cities, the key
deployment problem today is reaching rural areas and those hard to serve.
As the U.S. rural deployment has demonstrated, competition is highly
unlikely to solve rural problems. We're talking about areas that struggle
to have even one provider, much less the 4-7 normally needed for
competition to do it's magic.

In 2008, the U.S. had 5% of homes unserved, about ten times as many as
Britain or France. 6 years later, that figure has only gone down to 4%
despite $7B in stimulus that was supposed to sove that problem.
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