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.

W. David Gardner, Contributor

March 17, 2010

3 Min Read

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. While most carriers, cable operators, and network equipment providers have hailed much of the plan -- particularly its goal of providing high-speed Internet to most people in America -- they hedge on how the goal will be accomplished.

"Now comes the hard part," said Verizon Communications' Tom Tauke, in a statement, noting that "virtually all of these important goals will be achieved through private investment. So it is important that the policies enacted encourage investment and innovation across the Internet ecosystem."

Tauke, who is Verizon's executive VP for public affairs, policy, and communications, praised Genachowski and the FCC's Blair Levin for using the plan as a "catalyst" to reform the healthcare delivery system, improve energy conservation, preserve the environment, and promote the use of broadband technology to advance education." Levin is executive director of the National Broadband Taskforce.

The broadband plan seeks also to pave the way for smaller companies and startups to enter the marketplace to help spur competition, increase innovation, and lower prices for consumers. Taking note of the convergence of TV and Internet PCs, the plan calls for increased competition in set-top boxes to broaden control beyond cable and satellite providers.

At the heart of its plan, the FCC proposes that 100 million U.S. households be connected with affordable 100-Mbps service and also seeks to establish 1 Gbps service at anchor institutions like libraries and schools in individual communities.

"History teaches us that nations that lead technological revolutions reap enormous rewards," said Genachowski. "We can lead the revolution in wired and wireless broadband. But the moment to act is now."

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