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Broadband Internet Regulation and Access: Background and Issues

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Broadband or high-speed Internet access is provided by a series of technologies that give users the ability to send and receive data at volumes and speeds far greater than current Internet access over traditional telephone lines. In addition to offering speed, broadband access provides a continuous, "always on" connection and the ability to both receive (download) and transmit (upload) data at high speeds. Broadband access, along with the content and services it might enable, has the potential to transform the Internet: both what it offers and how it is used. It is likely that many of the future applications that will best exploit the technological capabilities of broadband have yet to be developed. There are multiple transmission media or technologies that can be used to provide broadband access. These include cable, an enhanced telephone service called digital subscriber line (DSL), satellite, fixed wireless (including "wi-fi" and "Wi-Max"), broadband over powerline (BPL), fiber-to-the-home (FTTH), and others. While many (though not all) offices and businesses now have Internet broadband access, a remaining challenge is providing broadband over "the last mile" to consumers in their homes. Currently, a number of competing telecommunications companies are developing, deploying, and marketing specific technologies and services that provide residential broadband access.

From a public policy perspective, the goals are to ensure that broadband deployment is timely and contributes to the nation's economic growth, that industry competes fairly, and that service is provided to all sectors and geographical locations of American society. The federal government -- through Congress and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) -- is seeking to ensure fair competition among the players so that broadband will be available and affordable in a timely manner to all Americans who want it.

While President Bush has set a goal of universal broadband availability by 2007, some areas of the nation -- particularly rural and low-income communities -- continue to lack full access to high-speed broadband Internet service. In order to address this problem, the 109th Congress is examining the scope and effect of federal broadband financial assistance programs (including universal service), and the impact of telecommunications regulation and new technologies on broadband deployment. One facet of the debate over broadband services focuses on whether present laws and subsequent regulatory policies are needed to ensure the development of competition and its subsequent consumer benefits, or conversely, whether such laws and regulations are overly burdensome and discourage needed investment in and deployment of broadband services. The Congressional debate has focused on H.R. 5252 which addresses a number of issues, including the extent to which legacy regulations should be applied to traditional providers as they enter new markets, the extent to which legacy regulations should be imposed on new entrants as they compete with traditional providers in their markets, the treatment of new and converging technologies, and the emergence of municipal broadband networks and Internet access. This report -- which will be updated as events warrant -- replaces CRS Issue Brief IB10045, Broadband Internet Regulation and Access: Background and Issues.


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