FCC Launches New Broadband Era
After nearly a decade of losing ground to other countries in broadband deployment, the Federal Communications Commission initiates the first U.S. national broadband plan. The FCC is seeking public input on broadband IT infrastructure and services.Hard as it might seem to believe, the Federal Communications Commission finally got around to deciding it needed a plan to get broadband to more Americans after a decade of falling behind other nations when it comes to penetration and speeds of high-speed Internet. At the FCC's monthly open meeting April 8, the agency voted to create a national broadband plan.
The creation of a broadband plan comes only after Congress ordered the FCC to do it as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, a fact noted by acting FCC Chairman Michael Copps, who is holding down the fort while President Obama's choice to run the agency-Julius Genachowski-awaits confirmation hearings.
"When I arrived here in 2001 and called for the Commission to engage in a serious dialogue about the future of broadband, it was unclear whether such a dialogue would occur," Copps said. "On many occasions over the intervening years, I talked about how the country lacked a national strategy; how we lacked even the essential data on which to build a viable strategy; and how we were paying way too high a price because of a cavalier approach to an urgent national problem."
That bit of politics aimed at the Bush administration's failed free market plan to bring affordable broadband to all Americans by 2007 aside, Copps got down to laying out the challenge of making up lost ground.
"This Commission has never, I believe, received a more serious charge than the one to spearhead development of a national broadband plan," he said. "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."
As with all FCC inquires, the agency is first seeking public input on a wide range of questions about what a national broadband plan might actually be, including "strategies for achieving affordability and maximum utilization of broadband infrastructure and services." The FCC is also charged with evaluating the current status of U.S. broadband deployment along with the progress of related grant programs.
When Congress mandated that the FCC develop a broadband plan, it also dropped $7.2 billion in stimulus funds for the building of broadband networks to unserved and underserved parts of the United States. The stimulus plan allocates $4.7 billion of the funding to the NTIA (National Telecommunications and Information Administration) and the remaining $2.5 billion to the Department of Agriculture with the FCC in a consulting role.
"Our Notice of Inquiry seeks to be open, inclusive, outreaching and data-hungry," Copps said. "It seeks input from stakeholders both traditional and nontraditional: those who daily ply the halls of our hallowed portals, those that would like to have more input here if we really enable them to have it and those who may never have heard of the Federal Communications Commission."