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3/17/2010
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FCC Broadband Plan Faces Challenges

The National Broadband Plan has met with widespread support, but also many disagreements on how to achieve the goal of bringing high-speed connections to all Americans.

The Federal Communications Commission's National Broadband Plan is scheduled to get its first baptism by fire Wednesday when the FCC convenes a panel to create a nationwide interoperable public safety wireless broadband network. The issue, addressed two years ago when the FCC auctioned its 700-MHz spectrum, was a colossal failure, and the FCC has chosen to begin with that most pressing -- and onerous -- issue.

A nationwide interoperable public safety issue is the Motherhood and Apple Pie issue of the voluminous plan the FCC sent to Congress Tuesday, but it is like Mark Twain's comment about the weather "Everybody talks about it, but nobody does anything about it."

While much of the 700-MHz spectrum -- the so-called beachfront property bands -- was auctioned off, no serious bids were received for the 700-MHz D Block, which had been set aside for public safety use. In the new plan, the FCC is seeking at least $12 billion from Congress for an interoperable public safety network.

Public safety is just the first of many issues the FCC and Congress will be taking up in the months -- and probably years -- to come.

Virtually all interested parties hail the FCC's primary goal of the broadband plan -- providing high-speed broadband connections to all Americans. And the FCC has been showered with bouquets from all sides -- from carriers and networking providers to public interest groups and government agencies -- but implementation of its suggestions will be something else.

The FCC proposed that 500 megahertz of spectrum be freed for mobile use, but a big chunk of that would come from broadcast TV spectrum and that won't be easy to pry loose.

Like most of the issues in the plan, FCC chairman Julius Genachowski has already addressed the tightening spectrum issue. He's called the spectrum crunch a looming "crisis" and some Americans are beginning to get a taste of the crunch as their smartphones begin to drop more data.

The nearly $9 billion Universal Service Fund and the intercarrier compensation system are viewed as pots of gold that could be reformed. The FCC wants to "increase accountability and efficiency, encourage targeted investment in broadband infrastructure," all in the name of bringing broadband to all Americans.

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