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U.S. broadband study says "open access" fosters competition

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Open access policies have helped other leading industrialized nations develop more competitive broadband markets by lowering entry barriers, according to a study commissioned by the U.S. Federal Communications Commission.

The study, commissioned by the FCC, examines global broadband plans and practices and comes as the agency is devising a plan aimed at increasing broadband usage in rural and urban areas of the United States.

The FCC released a draft of the document on Wednesday and issued a call for public comment on the findings.

The study says that in countries where “an engaged regulator enforced open access obligations, competitors using these open access facilities provided an important catalyst for the development of robust competition.”

The 232-page study by Harvard University’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society, added that, in most cases, competition contributed to strong broadband performance.

“The lowest prices and highest speeds are almost always offered by firms in markets where, in addition to an incumbent telephone company and a cable company, there are also competitors who entered the market, and built their presence, through use of open access facilities,” the study said.

The study says open access has largely been treated as a closed issued in U.S. policy debates since a series of FCC decisions in 2001 and 2002 backed away from this form of regulation for broadband.

In other findings, the study said that like the United States several countries plan to use economic stimulus funds to support the roll-out of high capacity networks.

An FCC task force has said preliminary estimates indicate that investments in the range of $20 billion to $350 billion may be needed for wireless and landline infrastructure, depending on the speed of service. The range indicates the slowest speeds to premium fast speeds.

According to the FCC, the majority of Americans have Internet service at home, one-third have access to broadband but have not subscribed, and another 4 percent have no access.

Reporting by JoAnne Allen; Editing by Greg Mahlich

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