The total cost of developing a universal broadband plan for the United States could run as high as $350 billion, but the plan would produce major economic and social benefits ranging from improving healthcare and education to helping people with disabilities and improving public safety programs, according to a report prepared by an FCC task force.
The huge price tag dwarfs the $7.2 billion earmarked in President Obama's economic stimulus program. The task force estimated universal broadband deployment costs would range between $20 billion and $350 billion. The highest figure calls for providing service at 100 Mbps or faster.
The report, prepared to help FCC commissioners develop a national broadband plan for Congress, was prepared after information and suggestions were acquired from about 230 witnesses who presented evidence and opinion at 26 hearings and workshops. In addition to laying the groundwork for the February report to Congress, the report discussed the present state of broadband in the United States.
"Actual broadband speeds lag advertised speeds by at least 50% and possibly more during the busy hours," according to the report. "Peak usage hours, typically 7 p.m. to 10 p.m., create network congestion and speed degradation. About 1% of users drive 20% of traffic, while 20% of users drive up to 80% of traffic."
While the definition of broadband can vary greatly, the task force was clear on the issue of spectrum -- much more of the wireless commodity will be needed, particularly as smartphone sales overtake sales of standard phones by 2011. The task force said it is assessing the nation's long-term spectrum needs.
In spite of the high cost of bringing universal high-speed broadband to all regions of the country, the task force noted that broadband can offer solutions to some of the country's major challenges. It suggested that broadband would spur telemedicine and improve electronic healthcare records while the energy environment would be helped by broadband-assisted smart grids, smart homes, and smart transportation.
In addition, high-speed broadband will benefit the delivery of government services and lead to more transparency in public policy. Also, education will be assisted by digital textbooks and online learning, and disabled people will be helped by specialized hardware and software. Universal broadband, the task force indicated, should also be developed for use by public safety agencies. Presently, the task force said, public safety entities have access only to commercial broadband services.
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