GAO says broadband costs, not availability, is hindering adoption

House Energy Committee chairman Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) said he was encouraged that the FCC's plan resembled efforts undertaken in countries such as Canada, the United Kingdom and Japan and said the GAO's report confirms the importance of it. However, the GAO acknowledged the public-private partnerships advocated by Waxman and Boucher raised some concerns. 

"Two providers told us that they think it is unfair to use public funds to finance wireline broadband to compete with a company providing broadband over a satellite or wireless network in rural areas because there is not enough business in such areas to support one unsubsidized company," the report states.

"In addition, officials at companies in Japan and Canada questioned the sustainability of government-funded projects and expressed concern about who would be responsible for maintaining government-funded infrastructure once the government funding is gone."

However, the GAO found that efforts to promote competition among broadband carriers in other nations had largely been successful in lowering prices. In six out of the seven countries examined, opening up telephone networks allowed other firms to provide DSL broadband access using the existing telephone infrastructure. The FCC has yet to determine whether the current U.S. broadband market is competitive, but opening up phone lines has not been seriously discussed as an option.

Expanding wireless broadband infrastructure by freeing up spectrum is another step the GAO says would help spur competition in the U.S. The FCC's recent decision to open up "white spaces" or unused television spectrum could have the desired effect once companies start developing wireless routers that take advantage of the newly available airwaves.