Policy

Here’s the Broadband Plan. What's Next?

3/22/2010 12:17 PM Eastern

What now?
That seemed to be the operative
question coming out of the Federal
Communications Commission’s
unveiling last week of a
national broadband plan whose
main components had already
been announced and analyzed.

Because there were no action
items, the overwhelming reaction
from industry and activist groups
alike was modest applause for the
effort and pledges to work together
on solutions.

The FCC vote was unanimous
— not on the plan itself — but on
what amounted to a proclamation
of sorts that broadband was vital
and the nation sure needs to get
more of it and do more with it.

The next step for the FCC will
be to propose rulemakings —
likely every month and far into
the future — which will require
comments, reply comments,
workshops and public hearings,
not to mention blogging and
crowd sourcing.

“The market will not feel an immediate
impact, and, like any major
policy proposal, the long-term
benefits will only be as strong
as the FCC’s will to push back
against the incumbents’ relentless
lobbying and legal challenges,
and turn the plan into reality,”
said Free Press executive director
Josh Silver.

Since this was a report to
Congress, the relevant
House and Senate committees
scheduled the first two
hearings for this week (March
23 in the Senate, March 23 in
the House), with a hearing in the
Senate Small Business Committee
within the next few weeks.
Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) who
put the broadband plan mandate
in the stimulus bill, has already
introduced a bill implementing
some of the online energy monitoring
portions of the plan.

More than half of the recommendations
in the plan the FCC
can handle on its own authority.
The  majority of the rest of them
are directions to various government
agencies; a handful are action
items for Congress.

By 2020, according to the plan,
100 million homes (or the vast
majority of the approximately 129
million total) should have access
to aff ordable high-speed broadband
(at speeds of 100 Megabits
per second for downloads and 50
Mbps for uploads), and the vast
majority — 90% to 100% — should
have adopted it.

The FCC hopes the plan will
bring about other positive benefits, such as managing energy use,
controlling health-care costs and
training and educating citizens.

For broadcasters, the plan
means trying to figure out how
quickly and how voluntarily the
government plans to take back
120 Megahertz of its spectrum (it
occupies a little north of 290 Mhz,
having already given back more
than 108 MHz in the transition
to digital broadcasting). The FCC
is looking to use some of the billions
of dollars it anticipates getting
from spectrum auctions to
help pay for some of its proposals.

For cable operators, it
means figuring out just
how the commission plans
to spur competition in the marketplace
and whether that will
mean forcing providers to open
up to competitors the networks
they have invested billions in
and imposing a one-size-fits all
gateway device to turn TV sets
into broadband adoption-driving
computer monitors, among other
things.

Then there is the specter of the
commission reclassifying broadband
as a Title II telecommunications
service, which would
mean common carrier style access
regs.

Media Access Project President
Andrew Schwartzman said
he thinks the wireless companies
will be the big winners down the
road “if the commission succeeds
in diverting substantial amounts
of spectrum to broadband,” and
cable carriers will benefit from
the adoption side if more folks
can be sold on the value of broadband
service.

Schwartzman said he doesn’t
expect any of the legislative proposals
to see any action in Congress
this year.

October