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Broadband For America: A Look at the FCC Plan

The FCC wants to bring high-speed broadband to 90% of American homes by 2020. And they plan to raise overall speeds from the pathetic bitrate of today, 18th among industrialized nations, to a future of 100 million homes receiving at least 100 mb/s of data.

These are the highlights in the FCC’s national broadband plan. The executive summary explains that this plan is part of a Congressional mandate from 2009 to come up with a broadband strategy to wire America. The whole report is kind of weedy, but the highlights include:

1) Competition: encouraging competition in the broadband market to spur better pricing, faster speeds and innovation.

2) Efficient use of government assets: the FCC would block out spectrum for broadband use, and repurpose spectrum bought back from local broadcasters. In addition, there’s actually money ($7.2 billion) for broadband infrastructure expansion in the stimulus package, and this sets some of the rules for how to use it.

3) Incentives for universal access: every community would have access to ultra-high-speed connections at a community center or library. Other policies and funds are proposed here to expand access to broadband.

4) Using broadband for national priorities: Basically, this goes over how broadband can be useful in health care, education, energy, etc.

The goals are pretty strong (for example, affordable broadband access for all, 1Gb/sec lines in every community, real-time energy consumption statistics available to everyone), and could even save money for the government, if implemented correctly. But it was not universally praised:

Speaking at South by Southwest Interactive, a technology conference in Austin, Texas, Derek Turner, the research director for the nonprofit group Free Press, said the broadband plan does not do enough to reduce the cost of high-speed Internet connections, which he said is the biggest barrier to adoption.

Still, he said, he is hopeful that the federal government can address the issue.

“I’m actually very hopeful for some positive outcomes,” he said at the conference, “because I’ve seen stranger things happen in Washington.”

Speaker Pelosi, by contrast, endorsed the FCC plan:

“The deployment of high-speed, broadband infrastructure from coast to coast will fuel the development of millions of new jobs here at home and global competitiveness for our nation. Furthermore, affordable access to the Internet and other broadband services will also provide innovative solutions to address national priorities such as health care, education, energy independence, and public safety. That is why the Recovery Act made a strategic investment of $7.2 billion in our nation’s broadband infrastructure and charged the Federal Communications Commission with developing a National Broadband Plan.

“Today’s release of a National Broadband Plan embraces the goal of universal, affordable broadband access across a variety of platforms, and provides Congress with an opportunity to work with the FCC to make this goal a reality. Broadband must be deployed in a way that bridges the digital divide – ensuring that every American has access to affordable and robust broadband Internet service and the economic opportunities it creates.

“Just as railroads and highways did in the past, broadband will dramatically increase the productivity and efficiency of our economy in the future and bring more Americans into an online global community and marketplace.”

Obviously, this is the start, not the end, of the discussion.

UPDATE: FCC Commissioner Julius Genachowski has a post on the Broadband blog about the plan. The Preisdent has also weighed in with a statement.

UPDATE II: This is a very good, detailed, appropriately skeptical take of the FCC plan, calling it “a good first step, possibly made worthless without lobbying reform.”

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David Dayen

David Dayen