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?
March 22, 2010; 7:00 AM ET
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