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