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Executive summary of FCC national broadband plan

Here is the executive summary of the national broadband plan to be presented tomorrow.

The Federal Communications Commission will unveil its plan to bring broadband Internet connections to the entire country, a decade-long effort intended to make the U.S. a global leader on innovation.

According to the executive summary, the plan will be far-reaching, with centerpieces around reforming an $8 billion federal phone fund for broadband deployment. It will also aim to create more mobile broadband spectrum, with the release of 500 megahertz of airwaves -- much from broadcasters -- of which 300 will be available in five years.

The laundry list of proposals is certain to face opposition from companies such as broadcasters who will be loath to give up over-the-air spectrum, even if the FCC calls for them to hand airwaves over voluntarily. And the potential for a new policy that would require national cell phone service providers give competitors data roaming will probably be resisted. Reforming the Universal Service Fund has vexed former regulators and lawmakers who faced arguments from rural carriers that the federal government would be taking basic phone service away from rural customers.

"We have the opportunity to lead the world in mobile broadband," FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski said in a recent interview. "Also we have very real challenges to do that."

In order to fulfill the primary mandate of the national broadband plan -- to be presented to Congress Wednesday -- the FCC needs to bring in more competition into the highly concentrated industry so that prices go down and speeds go up, public interest groups say.

And while the agency attempts to tackle competition with a list of proposed rules to open up the television set top box and collect more data, contentious proposals have been left off the table.

In many areas of the U.S., there is only a phone and cable service provider offering high-speed Internet. In a survey by the FCC, people who don't get broadband cite cost and lack of relevancy as the main reasons for why they don't get service. Last week, Comcast, for example, raised prices for its broadband service in New Jersey and Philadelphia by $2 a month.

A Harvard University professor, commissioned by the agency to study broaband competition and what other countries have done, noted in a report last year that requiring telecom and cable operators to share their lines for competitors to access led to faster adoption and deployment of broadband and lower prices.

That idea was blasted by the biggest Internet service providers such as AT&T, Comcast and Verizon. The agency doesn't take on that issue with a specific policy recommendation. However, it mentions that competitive access to neworks by competitors should be considered.

"Recent filing at the FCC highlight additional dimensions fo the FCC's wholesale regulatory framework that deserve attention, icluding competitive access to local fiber facilities . . . " the plan states. "The FCC should act on these proceedings within the context of rigorous analytic frameworks that establish coherent sets fo conditions under which such rules should be applied and appropriately balance the benefits of competitive entry with incentives for carriers to invest in their networks."

The agency doesn't make a specific recommendation for so-called special access reform, but points to a proceeding already underway at the agency. Special access policies have been criticized for blocking competition and preventing the lowering of broadband prices. They deal with the negotiation between cell phone companies and the fixed-wire network operators who carry cell phone calls through their backhaul networks.

"They are moving toward the right direction . . . but confronting the duopoly remains hardest nut to crack," said Ben Scott, policy director of Free Press.

The agency did offer the following recommendations on competition:

-Opening television set-top boxes so that broadband can be accessed through TVs, which are in about 99 percent of all homes.

-More unlicensed spectrum (White Spaces) for unlicensed use of mobile broadband.

-Move forward on data roaming -- a proposal that has been at the commission to force national carriers to allow customers of regional service providers to access data connections on other networks.

-The collection of market-by-market information on broadband pricing. That data would help inform what areas aren't getting served and the quality of their service.

By Cecilia Kang  |  March 15, 2010; 10:46 AM ET
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National Broadband Plan, But What Will it Cost?

The FCC estimates that providing universal broadband coverage at 100 Mbps will cost $350 billion. I don't think taxpayers are willing, right now, to pony up that kind of money. Development of a truly high-speed, world-leading telecommunications network is important. But it should be led (as it has been) by the private sector, with some public sector involvement where broadband provision has proven commercially unviable.

Posted by: MyAIC | March 18, 2010 8:45 AM | Report abuse

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