June 22, 2010 By Will Wilson
approach and to take more resources in the state to focus on broadband," notes Stuart Freiman, broadband program manager for the Rhode Island Economic Development Corp. For Freiman, the gamut of state actions suggested by the plan and supported by this planning grant -- everything from improving Internet adoption and digital literacy to using broadband to bolster education and integrate broadband applications across state public safety agencies -- "have created a fantastic opportunity for states to deal with issues they maybe haven't addressed in the past or have ignored because they thought it was being taken care of."
In all, the FCC has more than 60 action items from the plan slated for 2010 implementation. But one of the most prominent measures, auctioning off some new airwaves to commercial providers for broadband applications, has erupted in a dispute over whether a dedicated public emergency broadband network should be owned by government or private carriers. Public safety officials, as well as a number of state and local government groups, including the Council of State Governments and the National Governors Association, argue that these airwaves should be dedicated to a public emergency broadband network. Paying for a public safety network might be difficult, however, and the FCC has suggested that such a network could be constructed less expensively on existing public safety airwaves and supplemented by empowering public safety agencies to take over commercial bandwidth in emergency situations. Congress weighed these arguments in a public hearing June 17 as it considers legislation to build a national public safety broadband network.
One of the FCC's first actions relating to the plan, to reduce the cost and time it takes broadband providers to access the country's 49 million utility poles that the FCC regulates, was influenced by existing programs in some states. FCC General Counsel Phoebe Yang says the move was modeled after attachment guidelines in Connecticut and New York, which regulate their own poles, that can halve the number of days the process might take in other states. When the FCC implements these new rules, those poles still regulated by those other states will lag behind.
By informing the FCC of similar best practices, as well as challenges without current solutions, states will continue to play a crucial role in developing many of the federal regulations that will tumble out in the coming months and years. "We'd love to have input on the infrastructure issues, particularly around the impact of the plan's recommendations on traditional wireline carriers. We rely on the states to communicate that to us. Nothing is self-effectuating. Nothing is pre-decided," Yang says, noting that there are numerous issues, such as broadband adoption by those with disabilities, where the front lines are at the state level.
States also are moving ahead to use their authority to modernize policies and bolster broadband availability. On June 15, Governor Pat Quinn made Illinois the latest state to revamp its telecommunications law, overhauling obsolete standards from a 1985 law written in the days before widespread cell phone and broadband adoption. State officials say the new law will stimulate greater private investment in broadband and wireless technologies.
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