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Our top 10 questions on the FCC's national broadband plan

Now that you’ve spent the weekend (so splendid weather-wise in Washington) studying the national broadband plan, we ask: what next?

We’ll spend the week exploring the many questions that arise from the dense but often vague document.

Julius Genachowski, chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, will appear before two Congressional hearings this week to defend and explain the agency's plan. Other commissioners will also appear at a Senate Commerce Committee hearing Tuesday morning.

I’ve surveyed a broad mix of people – from those with political or financial interests in the deployment of broadband, to plain old users, to people who are advocating for consumers and minority groups--in order to get a sense of which questions the commissioners should be asked.

In no particular order of importance, here's a top-10 list of questions I think lawmakers should pose to Genachowski. You’ll also be hearing directly from sources this week. I’m concurrently launching a video series where high-tech and telecom policy insiders, consumers, scholars and public interest groups will directly ask a question of the FCC about the plan. Now let’s get the conversation started:

1. Affordability: The plan recommends pilot programs for subsidizing very low-income households broadband service – similar to what we do today for telephone service. Aside from this idea, which would apply to a very small percentage of households, what specific proposals are in the plan for making broadband more affordable for the rest of the country?

2. Speed: The plan recommends a goal of 4 mbps of actual download speed (and 1 mbp of actual upload speed) as a goal for broadband networks for all Americans by 2020. It also sets a goal of 100 mbps download speed and 50 mbps of upload speed for 100 million households by 2020. Is it really acceptable for the nation to have an infrastructure that is 25 times better for some Americans than for others? Would we accept that for electricity or water, the other infrastructure products the plan equates with broadband?

3. Competition: What is your benchmark for success in making the broadband industry more competitive? What would you do to make sure the two biggest wireless carriers don’t end up the biggest winners in auctions of the 500 megahertz of spectrum you’ve promised for commercial carriers? Would you consider spectrum caps?

4. Line-sharing: What would this entail? Is the mention of access to fiber networks by competitors a reference to special access reform? Or are you introducing small business unbundling? And why not residential line unbundling?

5. Process: When does the FCC issue its schedule for launching its Armada of policy proposals (NPRMs)? How many NPRMs will there be?

6. Reclassification: If a federal appeals court rules that the FCC jurisdiction over broadband Internet is limited, will the agency move to launching its inquiry into Title II common carrier services? Or will it stay its broadband plan course?

7. Politics: What is role of Congress in implementing all or parts of this? Who should take ownership of the whole plan? Some say Congress. But is this really the time for a Telecom Act of 2010?

8. Public Safety: Why did the FCC propose a system that will require police, fire, and emergency service agencies to rely on commercial carriers for their mission-critical broadband communications needs? Scores of public safety agencies have said that that type of arrangement always fails in a crisis.

9. TV set-top box: What is your view on the cable and satellite industry initiative called TV Everywhere? Would reforms to the set-top box address open-access concerns that arise from that business strategy?

10. Blair: What’s Blair Levin, the head of the broadband plan team, going to do next?

By Cecilia Kang  |  March 22, 2010; 7:00 AM ET
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here are many things the FCC can do without Congress. I noticed that your 10 questions do not speak to the proposed changes to the USF, particularly the Rural Health Care Program, as addressed in the FCC's Broadband plan. They are in Chapter 10. You may want to pay particular attention to those plans (a potential 400 million dollars a year in broadband support) and the ongoing Pilot program. Minor tweaks to implementation language and a willingness of the FCC to listen to experts in telemedicine are all that is really needed. A rider to the 96 Telecom act or a minor change would be all that is required to take advantage of this program fully. Most people do not know the history of this program or its potential impact. It is very hard to attract doctors to rural areas and telemedicine along with sufficient bandwidth in those rural areas holds the key to keeping communities together and healthy. Please expand your interest in the plan. You may find some very low hanging fruit ion chapter 10.

Posted by: dhjhome | March 22, 2010 8:49 AM | Report abuse

This is a response to the second point: speed.

The cost of water quality is, primarily, in the plant that cleans the water and the storage facilities that hold the clean water. If water quality is to be improved, then investment can be made in one centralized location. Thus, improvement of water quality is potentially simple and fast.

The cost of broadband is, primarily, in the pipes. If broadband speed is to be improved, then pipes need to be laid down. Thus, improvement of broadband speed is potentially very slow.

I would say that this is one of the reasons that we can stand to have significant performance disparities between cities and smaller towns.

Posted by: BlackMichael | March 22, 2010 12:14 PM | Report abuse

Great questions about the plan. I was surprised at the level of detail in the plan itself and the amount of attention that was paid to public feedback and proposals in the FCC’s hearings during the development process. I’m happy to see that in spite of a great plan, people realize that this is just the first step, and we must remain vigilant in ensuring that any moves that are made are in the best interests of the American people. This collection of questions is a great start.

Posted by: Stac77 | March 29, 2010 8:36 PM | Report abuse

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