FCC's National Broadband Plan: 'The Second Wave of Electricity'

Sweeping plan would overhaul U.S. broadband and make it the nation's primary communications network.

by / March 15, 2010 0

In what some say is akin to "the second wave of electricity" in America, the FCC wants to expand and increase high-speed Internet access nationwide while encouraging competition among service providers.

Set to be unveiled to Congress and the public Tuesday, March 16, the national broadband plan seeks to prioritize high-speed Internet as a "foundation for economic growth, job creation, global competitiveness and a better way of life," according to the FCC's summary report. The plan's recommendations could eventually trickle down.

"This is a breath of fresh air from the last eight years, when [the FCC] was chasing after porn," said Public Technology Institute Executive Director Alan Shark. "Finally we're looking at the most important thing for the success of the economy going forward."

Mandated by the 2009 stimulus bill, the FCC's vision over the next decade includes the following goals and recommendations, according to a press release from the FCC:

  • Connecting 100 million households to affordable 100 Mbps service, building the world's largest market of high-speed broadband users and ensuring that new jobs and businesses are created in America.
  • Affordable access in every American community to ultra-high-speed broadband of at least 1 GB per second at "anchor institutions" such as schools, hospitals and military installations so that America is hosting the experiments that produce tomorrow's ideas and industries.
  • Ensuring that the U.S. is leading the world in mobile innovation by making 500 MHz of spectrum newly available for licensed and unlicensed use.
  • Moving the nation's broadband adoption rates from roughly 65 percent to more than 90 percent, and ensuring that every child in America is digitally literate by the time he or she leaves high school.
  • Bringing affordable broadband to rural communities, schools, libraries and vulnerable populations by transitioning existing Universal Service Fund support from analog technologies to digital infrastructure.
  • Promoting competition across the broadband ecosystem by ensuring greater transparency, removing barriers to entry and conducting market-based analysis with quality data on price, speed and availability.
  • Enhancing the safety of the American people by providing every first responder with access to a nationwide, wireless, interoperable public safety network.

Best Practices Could Trickle Down

The U.S. needs to bring its broadband capabilities up to speed to retain a level of competitiveness. In doing so, "broadband gaps" need to be filled so that all populations, most notably the disabled, Native Americans, students and the unemployed, are connected, the FCC said.

Also lacking is the nation's ability to harness "broadband's power to transform delivery of government services, health care, education, public safety, energy conservation, economic development and other national priorities," the FCC press release said.

About half of the plan's recommendations are addressed to the FCC, while the remaining are for Congress, the executive branch, and state and local governments working closely with the private and nonprofit sectors, according to the FCC.

Just how the recommendations will play out on the state and local levels, however, remains unclear. FCC spokesman Mark Wigfield said the plan's recommendations are directed at the federal level, and best practices would eventually trickle down to the state and local levels.

When it comes to public-sector IT, the plan's final outcome might be a "boon," Shark said. But even without seeing the plan, he said that IT staff will get the tools they've been seeking a long time, he said.

And in rural America, where technological advances generally lag behind those in metropolitan areas, broadband access will hopefully improve education, health care, public safety and energy efficiency.

"Broadband-enabled health information technology can improve care and lower costs by hundreds of billions of dollars

in the coming decades, yet the United States is behind many advanced countries in the adoption of such technology," the FCC plan summary said. "Broadband can provide teachers with tools that allow students to learn the same course material in half the time, but there is a dearth of easily accessible digital educational content required for such opportunities.

"A broadband-enabled smart grid could increase energy independence and efficiency, but much of the data required to capture these benefits are inaccessible to consumers, businesses and entrepreneurs," the summary said. "And nearly a decade after 9/11, our first responders still lack a nationwide public safety mobile broadband communications network, even though such a network could improve emergency response and homeland security."

Although such advances sound good, Shark said, he's going to wait before giving the FCC too much credit. "I'm waiting like everyone else, thinking, 'How does this translate to real action,'" he said. "They're certainly saying the right things. Now it's going to be, 'OK, how do we do this?'"

 

Karen Wilkinson

Karen is a former staff writer for Government Technology magazine.