FCC to Reveal National Broadband Plan

The Federal Communications Commission will reveal a plan March 17 to expand affordable broadband access to some 93 million Americans who lack a high-speed connection. The plan will likely involve a combination of price reductions for Americans along with investment in broadband infrastructure. A recent FCC survey suggests that 74 percent of Americans have Internet access from home, and that broadband users pay an average of $41 per month for the service. Carriers have expressed some reservations about the FCC's proposed expansion of Internet regulations.

A government plan for bringing affordable broadband access to a sizable portion of the 93 million Americans who currently lack a connection will be revealed March 17, according to the Federal Communications Commission, which recently conducted a survey detailing the country's Internet habits.

The United States currently trails a number of other countries, including Japan and France, in its rate of broadband adoption. The FCC has publicly suggested that overcoming that gap, and connecting more Americans, will translate into concrete societal and economic benefits.

"It's so important because broadband is essential to fostering 21st century jobs, investment and economic growth," Julius Genachowski, chairman of the FCC, said in prepared remarks at an FCC Open Agenda Meeting in Washington, D.C., Feb. 18. "It's also so important because of the vital role broadband must play in advancing key societal goals in areas like education, health care, energy, public safety, democracy, and small business opportunity."

Genachowski has cited a goal of expanding U.S. broadband access from 65 percent to 90 percent, at least in part by lowering broadband prices and expanding infrastructure.

An FCC survey of 5,005 Americans between October and November 2009 found that 78 percent of American adults are Internet users, with 74 percent of them having access from home. Around 65 percent of adults are "broadband adopters," and pay an average of $41 per month for service.

The report based on that survey, titled "Broadband Adoption and Use in America," suggested that richer and more educated people tended to have higher adoption rates of at-home broadband. Cost, lack of digital literacy and perceived irrelevance were cited as the primary barriers toward adoption for those who lack broadband.

"Not only does broadband adoption vary by income, individuals with broadband at home exhibit some differences in behavior and attitude toward broadband depending on their income," John Horrigan, the primary author on the paper, wrote as part of his conclusions. "In general terms, lower-income broadband users are more likely to use their high-speed connections to address important life issues, such as job searches or education, and for entertainment. Higher-income broadband users, however, are more likely than low-income ones to shop online, contact government and bank."

Expanding broadband to wider swaths of the population, however, could come with increased jockeying between the government and telecommunications companies. In January, AT&T told the FCC that it needed to ditch its land-line infrastructure in order to help Congress meet its goal of extending broadband access to the entire American populace.

"The transition is underway already," AT&T wrote in a Dec. 21 missive to the FCC. "With each passing day, more and more communications services migrate to broadband and IP-based services, leaving the public switched telephone network (PSTN) and plain-old telephone service (POTS) as relics of a bygone era."

The FCC may also expand its regulatory powers over Internet service, although a variety of carriers ranging from AT&T and Verizon to Time Warner Cable have all protested the potential move as detrimental to their ability to invest in broadband networks.