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2/19/2010
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FCC Previews National Broadband Plan

Broadband is seen as a tool that could be used to advance a series of 'national purposes' such as public safety, healthcare, and education.

With the FCC scheduled to deliver its National Broadband Plan to Congress next month, the FCC released a sneak preview of the plan, revealing the sweeping and ambitious proposals it hopes Congress will support.

The recommendations released Thursday in a 56-page report cover a variety of proposals ranging from efforts to spur job creation and improve energy independence to improving healthcare and controlling its costs. The plan also calls for constructing an interoperable nationwide wireless public safety network. Other proposals seek to improve the delivery of education services and enhance government performance.

The document released this week provides details of what may be included in the massive report the FCC plans to deliver to Congress on March 17.

"In charging the Commission with creating a National Broadband Plan," said FCC chairman Julius Genachowski in a statement, "Congress took the significant step of instructing us to address not only broadband deployment and adoption, but also to look at how broadband can advance a series of 'national purposes.' What was behind that directive, I believe, was a vision of the future that motivates us every day."

This week's recommendations hint at some more specific plans FCC commissioners believe can be activated. In job creation, for instance, the FCC proposes a "scalable online platform" that addresses job training and placement services. Public-private partnerships would deliver tech training for small and disadvantaged businesses.

In healthcare, the FCC wants to reduce regulatory barriers and clear the way for more remote monitoring of health records and vital signs of patients. The FCC believes such healthcare improvements utilizing widespread broadband could save $700 billion over 15-25 years. As an example, Genachowski said he envisions situations in which "a paramedic tending a car accident victim on a rural road can have a live video connection with an ER doctor."

Likewise, Genachowski said he wants "a future in which law enforcement officers and first responders from many jurisdictions can work together as one smart, fluid team on a single, integrated mobile broadband network."

In education, the FCC report recommends upgrading the E-rate program to improve broadband access in public elementary and secondary schools while also working to improve online learning opportunities including the reduction of regulatory barriers.

Integrating broadband into the smart grid, also recommended by the FCC, could help reduce greenhouse gases while widespread broadband accessibility could help consumers in accessing energy information, according to the document.

"It's in these kinds of applications that we'll see some of the most important benefits of pursuing universal broadband," said Genachowski.

In a guest column in Friday's Wall Street Journal, IBM CEO Sam Palmisano advocates for a national broadband upgrade driven by private-sector funding and "enlightened" government policy.

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