Today is the tenth anniversary of writing this blog every day. That equates to 2,527 blogs, and that got me thinking about why I write this blog. It also got me thinking about the things I have gotten right and wrong over the years in my daily musings about the broadband industry.
I give full credit for this blog to my wife Julie. Ten years ago, I told her that I was having trouble keeping up with the rapid changes in the industry. Julie suggested that I start writing a daily blog as a way to force myself to read and think about the industry. Writing a blog every day was incredibly difficult at first. I struggled to find topics, and I struggled to condense my thoughts into 700-word essays. But I stuck with it until writing became a habit. I now can’t imagine not writing a blog, and I usually have a longer list of potential topics than there are days to write about them.
Before writing this blog, I went back and read some of my blogs over the years to see what I got right and wrong. One thing about having a public blog is that you can’t escape what you’ve said in the past – it’s all still out there to read.
One of the first things I got wrong happened in the first year of writing the blog. I was highly skeptical of Tom Wheeler being named Chairman of the FCC. Mr. Wheeler had an interesting career as CEO of several high-tech companies but had also served as the President of the National Cable Television Association (NCTA) and the Cellular Telecommunications & Internet Association (CTIA). I assumed that his experience in lobbying for the biggest companies in the industry meant that he was going to bring a bias to the FCC strongly in favor of big companies over everybody else. I couldn’t have been more wrong. Tom Wheeler ended up being one of the most even-handed heads of the FCC during my career. He sometimes sided with large corporations, but he also was a champion of consumers and municipal broadband – something that I think surprised everybody in the industry. He was what you want to see in an FCC Chairman – somebody who independently supported what he thought was right instead of what was wanted by corporate lobbyists.
Another thing I got wrong was something I wrote near the end of 2019. By that time, I had heard for years from rural communities that despaired that they had no broadband and were being left behind. I wrote that I sadly didn’t see any real hope on the horizon and that rural communities were on their own to get creative and find a way to fund broadband – even though I knew that the financial lift was beyond most communities. There was no way to know that we were only a few months away from a pandemic that would change everything. We sent students and workers home to somehow cope with school and work without broadband, and the cry for better broadband could no longer be ignored. We’re now awash in broadband grant funding. It’s going to take a few years to see if the grant funding is enough to serve everybody, but broadband solutions are on the way for most rural communities that were unimaginable in 2019.
I also got some things right. From the first time that I heard about the supposed wonders of 5G, I was extremely skeptical because I couldn’t find a business case for the technology. Almost everybody in the country already had a cellphone, and it was hard to imagine that people would be willing to spend more to get the rather obscure benefits promised by 5G. If anything, the trend seemed to be in the opposite direction, with competition driving cellular prices lower. I watched in amazement as the power of large corporate lobbying invented a fervor for 5G out of thin air. The public and politicians were sold on the idea that 5G meant a broadband revolution, and the 5G message was suddenly everywhere. There is still no great business case for 5G and there has been very little actual 5G technology introduced into networks. Yet even today, I keep reading about how 5G will soon change everything.
I also got it right in predicting that broadband demand would continue to grow. Akamai reported in 2013, when this blog started, that the average broadband download speed in the U.S. was 8.6 Mbps. Pew said that 2013 was the year when home broadband connections hit a 70% market penetration. The digital divide was already evident in 2013 when 90% of homes that included a college graduate had broadband compared to only 37% for homes where the adults didn’t have a high school degree. From the beginning of writing my blog, I predicted that home broadband consumption would double every three years – and it has grown even faster. Amazingly, politicians and policymakers still act like broadband demand is static. In 2015, the FCC amazingly handed out $1.5 billion annually for six years of CAF II funding to support the rural DSL provided by the largest telcos. Even today, policymakers are ignoring the broadband growth trends by allowing BEAD grants to be given to technologies as slow as 100/20 Mbps. We embarrassingly still have a national definition of broadband of only 25/3 Mbps at a time when a large majority of folks are able to buy gigabit speeds.
People often ask me how long I’ll keep writing this blog, and my answer is easy. I’ll keep writing for as long as there are interesting topics to talk about – and for as long as it’s fun.