FCC Starts Broadband Plan with Broad Scope
The Federal Communications Commission has begun the process of mapping out a plan to bring high-speed Internet service to the entire nation, starting with questions on how to increase its availability, improve its quality of service, and make that service more affordable.
In a meeting earlier today, acting Chairman Michael J. Copps invited comments from the public on the national broadband plan the FCC has been ordered by Congress to complete by February 2010. He said the process for creating the plan will be "open, inclusive, out-reaching and data-hungry."
The meeting was largely intended to set the stage for greater debate on contested policies that could be included in the FCC's broadband plan and would likely be spearheaded by President Obama's nominee to chair the agency, Julius Genachowski. The public will be able to submit comments to the agency for the next 60 days and then reply comments will be open for another 30 days.
Already telecommunications companies and public interest groups have weighed in at the FCC on things they believe should be in the plan. Some carriers want rules on how much large network operators can charge carriers to use parts of their networks. Others say reform of a $7 billion federal phone subsidy program for rural areas should instead be used for broadband.
Free Press, a public interest group, said the last administration dropped the ball on broadband deployment.
"If we want to see any improvement in the availability and adoption of broadband in this country, we need a strong government watchdog and a broadband plan that puts the public interest ahead of Wall Street's whims," said S. Derek Turner, Free Press's research director.
Copps said that beyond debates on technologies, the FCC would look at coming up with standards for speed and guidelines for what geographies are most in need of high-speed Internet service. It would also focus on "demand" issues, such as why more than three times as many people in urban areas aren't connecting to high-speed Internet service as those in rural areas.
The government has included $7.2 billion in stimulus funds for broadband development, mostly geared toward rural areas.
In a survey last year, the Pew Internet & American Life Project found that the cost of computers and service fees were among the main reasons people didn't subscribe to broadband. They also said they didn't see the relevancy of Internet content in their lives.
Chris Murray, senior counsel for Consumers Union, a public advocacy group, said the agency's plan would likely look at policies in place and see how they can be reformed to increase the availability of broadband and make service more attractive for consumers.
"The proper goal of the program is filling holes in our national broadband strategy, not creating broadband networks from the ground up," Murray said.
April 8, 2009; 5:00 PM ET
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