News

BROADBAND PLAN: A ROAD MAP

3/15/2010 11:50 AM Eastern

Washington — When the Federal
Communications Commission releases
its national broadband plan on March
16, it’s not likely to surpise many people.

The FCC has been disclosing parts of
the plan, or at least working recommendations,
in a variety of forums, from blogs
to workshops to speeches. It’s been akin
to reading the plan as a serialized drama
now being released in book form.

The FCC has set a roughly 10-year time
frame for its “2020” vision of dramatically
boosting universal deployment and
adoption, and reclaiming or otherwise
finding enough spectrum to handle all
the expected mobile broadband applications.

Much of the plan — more than a year in
the making — has already been laid out
in Hill briefings, and Congress gets it on
March 16, when the FCC outlines its proposals
to the rest of the world in its public
meeting.

The FCC has been billing the plan as
akin to the country’s marching orders for
the new millennium, suggesting there is
virtually no part of society or the economy
— from healthcare and energy to education
and government services — that won’t
be touched by broadband.

The plan will be a starting point for FCC
rulemakings. About 50% of it consists of
FCC recommendations to itself and 50% of
recommendations to Congress, the administration,
nonprofits and industry.

Among the plan’s key points of reference:

BROADBAND SPEEDS: The plan will
recommend a goal of 100-Megabits-persecond
download speeds for 100 million
households by 2020. For the other
200 million households, FCC chairman
Julius Genachowski has set a goal of
speeds above 2 mbps. The plan will recommend
disclosure of actual and advertised
speeds for fixed broadband.

SPECTRUM: The FCC wants to free up
500 MHz from current users for wireless
broadband over the next decade,
including offering broadcasters cash
for some of theirs. The broadband plan
team has suggested the process needs
to get started soon given how long such
reclamation takes (five to 10 years).
That might meet resistance in Congress,
where House Communications &
Internet Subcommittee chairman Rick
Boucher (R.-Va.) and others have signaled
they think the FCC should complete
a spectrum inventory (possibly a
four-year process) before deciding how
to proceed with reclamation.

ADOPTION: The plan is for the current
65% broadband adoption rate to be
raised to 90%, and for all children to be
digitally literate by the time they graduate
high school. The FCC backs a Digital
Literacy Corps to conduct training and
outreach; targeting education and outreach
to seniors; adding broadband to
the FCC’s Lifeline and Linkup programs
that have subsidized low-cost phone service
and to at least consider “using spectrum
for a free or very low cost wireless
broadband service.” Former FCC wireless
bureau chief John Muleta, now CEO
of M2Z Networks, says he thinks the FCC
might make a condition on re-auction of
the reclaimed 500 MHz that the winner,
essentially as a public-interest obligation,
provide low-cost or free wireless
broadband.

UNIVERSAL SERVICE: The plan is to
open the Universal Service Fund to broadband
in two phases, focusing on deployment
first and ongoing operations second,
with a goal of availability to 99% of U.S.
households by 2020. It will also seek to reform
intercarrier compensation. Support
for wireline-only service will be phased
out by 2020. The commission will also
propose a separate fund to support mobile
broadband.

POLE ATTACHMENTS: The plan says the
government should speed deployment of
wired broadband by tweaking pole-attachment
rules to lower costs and resolve
disputes more swiftly. Pole attachments
are regulated by the FCC.

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