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Levin: Coronavirus Will Expose Broadband Successes, Shortcomings

Blair Levin

Blair Levin

Blair Levin, the chief architect of the FCC's 2010 National Broadband Plan, said that the coronavirus will wind up shining a light on broadband access, adoption and use, both "where we have made progress and where we haven’t" since the plan was adopted.  

Levin was writing on the issue for the Benton web site in lieu of an event on the 10th anniversary of the broadband plan that had to be canceled. 

Levin said the focus of that spotlight will be on where the country has fallen short, including those limited to lower-speed satellite and DSL broadband, schools systems that close but with a number of students in broadband non-adopting homes; homes whose limited bandwidth "crashes"; and some "Monday morning quarter-backing." 

But Levin said that eventually, people will understand that without the broadband improvements that have been achieved, "the situation would have been a lot worse." 

Citing author Nassim Taleb's Antifragile, (opens in new tab) “The excess energy released from overreaction to setbacks is what innovates.” 

He said he is hopeful that the current crisis will catalyze such a reaction and that those innovations can be scaled up. 

Levin gave kudos to Comcast for stepping up to provide broadband to low income homes, which is allowing more kids to study from home during the pandemic.  

"I went into the plan thinking that the output would be a series of policy recommendations," he wrote. "That proved largely to be true but two of the most significant outcomes were private initiatives that emerged from discussions between National Broadband Plan team members and private enterprises." 

One was Google Fiber, the other, Comcast Internet Essentials, which he said "emerged from a Comcast executive hearing. Our adoption expert, John Horrigan, [spoke] about the problems of adoption and deciding his company had to do more." 

He said both efforts, "one of which contributed to a 25-fold increase in bandwidth speeds and the other of which added 8 million Americans to those with broadband in their homes," were "underappreciated success stories for why more Americans in the face of the coronavirus can work and learn from home." 

Levin gave credit to both companies, but also said it demonstrated "the power of a planning process to generate new ideas—and not necessarily government action—that produce better outcomes." 

John Eggerton
John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.