For many CIOs, implementing their company's wide area networks with broadband -- the superfast data transmission service available from DSL and cable Internet technology -- would be cheaper and less complicated than laying a dedicated T1 or T3 pipe. Neither high-speed service is available nationwide in the US, however, forcing CIOs with offices in non-urban locales to either pay through the nose or ignore users' requests for faster access. Now, after years of debating whether the government should help the infrastructure along, lawmakers and the White House finally agree there should be a national policy to promote broadband service. But they can't agree on how to do it.
A House bill by Rep. William Tauzin (R-La.), chairman of the U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee, and Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.), the panel's top Democrat, would end most regulation of the telecommunications and cable industries in exchange for deploying broadband nationwide by 2007. That bill passed the House last year and is favored by major U.S. telecommunications and cable companies.
In the U.S. Senate, Sen. Ernest Hollings (D-S.C.), chairman of the Commerce and Science Committee, would rather give tax credits to the cable and telecom companies that expand their broadband coverage. Most independent Internet service providers, which contend any deregulation will create new cable and telecommunications monopolies, prefer Hollings's approach.
Stepping into the breach is TechNet, a lobbyist for such heavyweight technology companies as 3Com, Cisco and Microsoft. TechNet wants both deregulation and tax breaks -- and has President Bush's ear. Bush told technology executives in June that if Congress can't agree, he'll push the Federal Communications Commission's plan, which -- surprise, surprise -- reflects TechNet's agenda.
Because TechNet also has lots of support among Democrats, its proposals have a good chance to prevail. Any action would be good news for CIOs, for whom faster, cheaper Internet access would become less of a pipe dream.
Don't Hold Your Breath for Wireless
HERE'S ANOTHER REASON to move cautiously when deploying wide area wireless applications: There isn't enough bandwidth for cheap, reliable wireless data services. So says David Hoover, an analyst who covers wireless for the Washington, D.C.-based Precursor Group. And there isn't likely to be enough until the government provides the nation's wireless carriers with additional frequencies they can use to offer these services.
But thanks to a last minute act of Congress in June, the major wireless carriers won postponement of the Federal Communications Commission's June 19 auction of broadcast frequency spectrums. The carriers didn't want to bid on the frequencies up for auction because they're still being used by television stations. The conversion of TV stations to high-definition digital technology -- which was supposed to be complete by 2006 -- is years behind schedule. "It is hard to do business if you have to pay $2 billion for a spectrum [license] and then negotiate to get a squatter out," says Kimberly Kuo of the Washington, D.C.-based Cellular Telecommunications and Internet Association.
The postponement spared the FCC the embarrassment of an unattended auction but more important gave the agency license to decide how to get lots of small, independent television stations to invest in digital technology. It's not clear how quickly the FCC will take action. Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Ala.) won a provision in the bill that rescheduled the auction for September, but there's little evidence that a solution can be found that quickly.
Until one is, companies (particularly those with a mobile workforce) lose. Wireless carriers will keep prices for data services high, and without adequate network capacity, exchanging data is at best a risky proposition.
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