Electronic Design

The FCC Sends Its Broadband Plan To Congress

The Federal Communications Commission released its broadband plan to Congress yesterday. I don’t know whether to laugh with joy or cry dejectedly. On the one hand, there’s plenty to be happy about for the electronics and telecommunications industries, as well as U.S. citizens in general. Maybe all of those folks in rural areas will finally get decent Internet service too. Furthermore, the plan should spur economic growth and investment, create jobs, educate our children, protect our citizens, and make us more competitive globally.

On the other hand, this whole thing is one more example of how the government wants to regulate and control everything, even though it does not have to. It’s an appalling grab of power if there ever was one, as well as a direct path to net neutrality. I suppose that I would be classified as a dirty rat or worse for opposing this plan, but I wish there was some way there could be more balance rather than the government dictating what to do.

The plan calls attention to our somewhat out of date broadband system and the fact that not everyone has access to it. I’m not sure that the figure of 100 million citizens without broadband at home is correct. It seems excessive and in conflict with some of the broadband figures I see from cable and telecom companies. Yet the fact remains that many people do not have a good high-speed Internet connection. I certainly favor that, but it seems we should let the industry figure out how to deliver it. The industry has not addressed the rural broadband issue, as there is no money in it. But I guess this new plan covers that deficiency very clearly.

I do like that the plan addresses the wireless spectrum crisis. Wireless is going to play a big role in the broadband efforts, and when it does, expect a spectrum shortage. The plan also delves into other things like bottlenecks, speed, and backhaul. It does make me wonder why the government should get that involved with those details, though. In a nutshell, here is the plan’s call to action during the next decade:

• Connect 100 million households to affordable 100-Mbit/s service, building the world’s largest market of high-speed broadband users and ensuring that new jobs and businesses are created in the U.S.

• Affordable access in every U.S. community to ultra-high-speed broadband of at least 1 Gbit/s at anchor institutions such as schools, hospitals, and military installations so the U.S. is hosting the experiments that produce tomorrow’s ideas and industries

• Ensure that the U.S. is leading the world in mobile innovation by making 500 MHz of spectrum newly available for licensed and unlicensed use.

• Move our adoption rates from roughly 65% to more than 90% and make sure that all children in the U.S. are digitally literate by the time they leave high school

• Bring affordable broadband to rural communities, schools, libraries, and vulnerable populations by transitioning existing Universal Service Fund support from yesterday’s analog technologies to tomorrow’s digital infrastructure

• Promote 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

• Enhance the safety of the people of the U.S. by providing every first responder with access to a nationwide, wireless, interoperable public safety network

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of February 2009 mandated the plan, and an FCC task force produced it. About half of the plan’s recommendations address the FCC, while the rest are for Congress, the executive branch, and state and local governments, working closely with the private and nonprofit sectors.

Now if we can only find a “have your cake and eat it too” approach where the goals are achieved but with minimum government involvement and control, I could really get behind this. I have not read the plan yet but will be doing so. Look for further coverage here on ElectronicDesign.com and in our June 10 issue. If you want to read the 380-page plan yourself, go to http://download.broadband.gov/plan/nationalbroadband-plan.pdf.

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