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3/15/2010
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FCC Broadband Plan Ready For Congress

A preview of the National Broadband Plan reveals sweeping proposals that would create jobs, improve public safety responses, and create new spectrum.

After several months of gathering information and comments on the nation's broadband future, the FCC has compressed the voluminous record into a comprehensive plan and will formally file it with Congress Tuesday. Then the sparks will fly.

A primary goal is putting U.S. citizens in the vanguard of broadband access -- the U.S. ranks 12th in broadband access according to some global surveys. One third of the U.S. lacks broadband access.

The set of proposals seeks to create jobs, improve public safety responses, and create new spectrum to accommodate the explosion of smartphones. A preview of the plan was released last month revealing the sweeping and ambitious proposals the agency hopes Congress will support.

"The National Broadband Plan is a 21st century roadmap to spur economic growth and investment, create jobs, educate our children, protect our citizens, and engage in our democracy," said FCC chairman Julius Genachowski in a statement. "It's an action plan, and action is necessary to meet the challenges of global competitiveness, and harness the power of broadband to help address so many vital national issues."

The plan to be available for 100 million households and, in a novel approach, Congress will be asked to approve ultra-high-speed broadband of at least 1 gigabit per second in every American community in anchor institutions generally available for the public at institutions such as schools, military institutions, and hospitals.

Genachowski has already sounded the alarm of a looming spectrum crisis and ways of finding additional spectrum are expected to generate vigorous debate as TV stations and spectrum holders aren't likely to give up their ownership without vigorous opposition or receiving something in return. Already the government has auctioned off the most valuable spectrum -- the 700 MHz bands -- but the surge of smartphones is already threatening to absorb much of that spectrum.

Proposals contained within the National Broadband Plan are likely to deal with the nation's patchwork public safety networks to develop a nationwide, wireless, interoperable public safety network for first responders. The need was dramatically underscored during the 9/11 terrorist attack and Hurricane Katrina when existing public safety networks failed.

The FCC's plan also seeks to promote new broadband competition by removing carriers to entry and by conducting "market-based analysis with quality data on price, speed, and availability."

The plan also calls for using funds from the existing Universal Service Fund's analog measures to advanced future digital infrastructure to help bring affordable broadband to rural communities, schools, libraries and vulnerable populations like Native Americans and disadvantaged Americans.

Estimated by some to cost $16 billion, the FCC's plan was mandated by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act in February 2009. The FCC leadership and staff conducted 36 public workshops, 9 field hearings, and 31 public notices that produced 75,000 pages of public comments. About one-half of the recommendations are addressed to the FCC while the remainder is addressed to Congress, the Executive Branch, state and local governments working with private and nonprofit sectors.

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