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Rep. Stearns: never mind about those previous concerns with the broadband plan, I've got some others

One of the first lawmakers to criticize the Federal Communications Commission’s national broadband plan, is now retreating from some of his initial comments.

Rep. Cliff Stearns (R-Fla.) fired off a statement right after the plan’s release, calling net-neutrality and reclassification of broadband service provisions “stalking horse” items that would kill off investments.

But in a C-Span interview to air later this week, Stearns noted that the agency didn’t include those controversial items in its plan.

“I have to be honest with you, there’s nothing in this national broadband plan talking about that, which is good news, so I’m sort of relieved,” Stearns said in an interview with C-Span host Peter Slen of The Communicators’program.

Still, Stearns said he wants to know how much it cost the FCC to create the broadband plan, which was developed by executive director Blair Levin and dozens of staff members over the past several months.

At Tuesday's presentation of the broadband plan, Levin that he was leaving the agency but did not say where he planned to go next. Levin joined the FCC after serving as a managing director of research at investment firm Stifel Nicholaus.

Stearns sent a letter to FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski earlier this month also asking who worked on the plan and why it was delayed by about one month. Stearns said he hopes to get answers to some of these questions at a hearing of the House Subcommittee on Communications, Technology and the Internet next Thursday at which all five commissioners are expected to be questioned about the broadband plan. Stearns expressed concern that the two Republican commissioners weren’t involved enough in the plan's development.

“A lot of this fell along party lines,” he said.

What he does like in the plan is the reform of the Universal Service Fund, the $8 billion annual fund used to deploy and operate telephone service in rural areas. The FCC has proposed to transform the fund so that money would also be used for broadband deployment.

On that point, he agreed with subcommittee chairman Rick Boucher (D-Va.), who has a bill in Congress now to reform the fund. Boucher said in a C-Span interview that he worked with the FCC on their recommendation of USF reform, that his legislation has gone through a legislative hearing and is ready for approval.

Boucher praised the FCC’s plan, agreeing with recommendations to get congressional funding for a wireless network for public safety responders. He agreed that more mobile spectrum needed to be made available for the next generation of wireless gadgets.

He supported the idea of a free or low-priced wireless network to help low-income populations adopt broadband, but with some skepticism.

“I think it has a place, not sure about the extent to which the federal government would be involved in making those decisions,” Boucher said.

By Cecilia Kang  |  March 19, 2010; 8:00 AM ET
Categories:  Broadband , FCC  
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