After a week of record snowfall in the nation's capital, Washington was hit by another blizzard this week: a flurry of broadband data, ambitious goals for the Federal Communications Commission's National Broadband Plan due to Congress March 17, and calls for the FCC to be bold in addressing the whole issue.
The National Broadband Plan, ordered by Congress last year as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, has already been delayed by a month, but FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski Feb. 16 offered a preview of the ambitiousness of the agency's goals.
After pointing out that while the United States invented the Internet, Genachowski said at a NARUC (National Association of Regulatory Rural Commissioners) meeting in Washington that the United States has fallen behind in the global broadband race. He warned that the "rest of the world is not sitting around waiting for us to catch up."
Genachowski said the National Broadband Plan "will set goals for the U.S. to have the world's largest market of very high-speed broadband users. A '100 Squared' initiative-100 million households at 100M bps-to unleash American ingenuity and ensure that businesses, large and small, are created here, move here and stay here."
While roundly applauded and praised for the 100 Squared initiative, a coalition of advocacy groups called upon the FCC Feb. 17 to be even bolder still in its thinking.
"The Commission should not be timid in the creation of a national broadband policy. The plan should match the ambitious spirit of the Recovery Act, and should chart a course that will bring the nation a world-class information infrastructure available to all U.S. residents," Parul P. Desai of the Media Access Project said at a press conference. "We welcome the chairman's announcement of the '100 Squared' initiative as a crucial starting point, and look forward to further, aggressive efforts to expand broadband development in the months and years to come."
The groups called for the National Broadband Plan to include a set of bold benchmarks and policies. The press conference focused on five benchmarks the groups want included in the plan.
Benchmark No. 1: The FCC should set a goal that U.S. broadband adoption of world-class networks equal the current rate of telephone adoption (over 90 percent) by 2020.The groups said that these networks should be available at world-class speeds with prices and quality of service that are reasonably comparable for all U.S. consumers.
"With one-third of U.S. households lacking broadband service at home, the Obama administration should declare the goal of raising the level of broadband adoption within a decade to 90 percent, which is about the level of telephone penetration today," said Mark Cooper, director of research at the Consumer Federation of America. "Like John F. Kennedy's challenge to America to put a man on the moon within a decade, the U.S. needs to rise to meet its down-to-earth economic problem. Ending digital exclusion, which was the result of the Bush administration's trickle-down broadband policy, would be a major social and economic accomplishment."
Benchmark No. 2: The FCC should set a goal of substantially improving the level of competition between providers of broadband Internet access to move the country out of a stagnant duopoly by the end of 2012. According to the Department of Justice and the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, the nation's broadband market is a rigid duopoly.
"When consumers do not have adequate choice in the broadband market, the Commission should intervene, and consider all options to bring about competition, including some form of infrastructure sharing," said Public Knowledge's Harold Feld.
Benchmark No. 3: The FCC should set a goal of establishing real consumer protections for broadband customers within 12 to 18 months.
"You shouldn't need an accounting degree to understand your monthly bill," said Joel Kelsey of Consumers Union. "The agency should waste no time in establishing new rules to protect consumers against price gouging, unfair billing practices, anti-competitive bundling, exorbitant early termination fees and undisclosed interference in consumers' communications."
Benchmark No. 4: The FCC should set a goal of implementing new broadband data collection standards and rules for utilizing that data in market analyses by the end of 2010.
"Without sufficient and accurate data it becomes very difficult to make informed policy decisions. While the Commission has recently taken important steps to improve its broadband data collection, that work is only just beginning," Benjamin Lennett of the New America Foundation's Open Technology Initiative, said. "The FCC must continue to improve its current data collection; establish new metrics and methods to provide an accurate picture of broadband availability, competition, performance, price and use; and ensure the data is easily accessible by the public to encourage robust and independent analysis."
Benchmark No. 5: The FCC should set a goal of establishing rules protecting open markets for speech and commerce on broadband networks as soon as feasible.
"It should be impossible to talk about the plan for universal availability and adoption of world-class broadband networks without underlining the importance of openness," said Free Press' Ben Scott. "The Commission should complete its current proceeding to establish non-discrimination rules and broadly ensure all devices are open, standardized and portable across all end-user broadband networks."
Added Desai of the Media Access Project, "The incumbent carriers have had well over a decade to meet U.S. broadband needs, but they have failed to do so. The FCC has more than enough data to craft a visionary and effective National Broadband Plan, and the agency should embrace all of the tools at its disposal to fulfill Congress' mandate. The public expects and deserves no less."