FCC Launches Effort To Craft National Broadband Plan - InformationWeek
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FCC Launches Effort To Craft National Broadband Plan

The commission is looking at ways high-speed Internet can improve the economy and individual lives.

The Federal Communications Commission has launched its effort to create a national broadband strategy, with an eye to submitting a plan to Congress early next year.

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act charged the FCC with creating a plan to give all Americans access to broadband. The FCC began the effort, which will include a series of hearings and meetings, on Wednesday by asking for public comment. The FCC must present the plan to lawmakers by Feb. 17, 2010.

"This commission has never, I believe, received a more serious charge than the one to spearhead development of a national broadband plan," FCC Chairman Michael Copps said in a statement Wednesday. "Congress has made it crystal clear that it expects the best thinking and recommendations we can put together by next February. If we do our job well, this will be the most formative -- indeed transformative -- proceeding ever in the commission's history.

The FCC plan will outline the most effective and efficient ways to give all Americans broadband access, strategies for affordability and adoption, evaluation of broadband deployment, and how broadband can be used for public interests. Those interests include consumer welfare, civic participation, public safety, homeland security, community development, health care, energy, education, worker training and job creation, private investment, entrepreneurship, and economic growth.

Copps promised to reach out to people in every corner of the nation to gain input into the plan.

S. Derek Turner, research director of media reform organization Free Press, applauded the effort and said Wednesday that it could serve as the foundation for telecommunications policymaking in the 21st century. Gigi Sohn, president and co-founder of public-interest group Public Knowledge, said that the move was "long overdue."

"Despite the widespread recognition that high-speed Internet services are necessary, this is the first time a government agency will take a comprehensive look at the situation and recommend a course of action to remedy our rapidly declining broadband ranking," Sohn said in a statement Wednesday.

The FCC's mandate is to provide a long-term blueprint for broadband deployment in the United States. In the near term, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration and the Department of Agriculture's Rural Utilities Service are charged with distributing $7.2 billion in broadband stimulus funds.

Representatives from both organizations joined Copps in a news conference announcing the launch.

"Instead of trying to resolve every contentious issue that has fueled so many years of seemingly endless debates over telecommunications -- debates that have too often deflected us from the progress we should have been making -- we will go in quest of practical suggestions that can be deployed in time to respond to the economic and many other challenges facing us," Copps said.

The Rural Utilities Service received $2.5 billion to expand broadband access in unserved and underserved areas. The American Reinvestment and Recovery Act allows some of that money to go to urban areas, a deviation from previous broadband programs funneled through the Department of Agriculture. The NTIA will spend the remainder of the funds.

Both organizations are working out details like whether to spend the money through grants, loans, or a combination of both. They have held hearings on the issue for a month and have drawn comments from about 3,000 individuals, companies, and organizations. They have said they will work closely with the FCC while drafting guidelines and requirements for stimulus spending. All three organizations are working on definitions of what constitutes high-speed access and what areas qualify as underserved and unserved. They're also drafting requirements for companies that use stimulus funds.

InformationWeek will be highlighting innovative government IT organizations in an upcoming issue. Nominate your agency by submitting an essay on your most innovative IT initiative completed in the last year. Find out more, and nominate your organization by May 1.

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