FCC Wants High-Speed Internet for the Masses

The chairman of the Federal Communications Commission has shared some details about the upcoming National Broadband Plan that will be sent to Congress in March, including plans to bring 100 M bps (bits per second) high-speed internet service to 100 million homes across the United States.

In a speech at the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners (NARUC) Conference on Tuesday, Chairman Julius Genachowski likened broadband to electricity--a "general purpose technology" that will enable a wide array of innovations and yield "hundreds of thousands of new jobs." According to Genachowski, wider access to high-speed internet will mean better access to education and resources for children in rural and urban areas, growth for small businesses, and improved healthcare.

Genachowski did not go into details about how the FCC planned on implementing its "100 Squared" plan, but rather pointed to Google's recent announcement of plans to build a 1 GB bps fiber network that will bring ultra high-speed broadband internet (at speeds "more than 100 times faster than what most Americans have access to today") to between 50,000 and 500,000 Americans. Genachowski mentioned that more innovators such as Google are needed to drive competition "to invent the future," and that the ultimate goal should "stretch beyond 100 megabits."

Genachowski pointed out that there is currently a broadband adoption rate of "roughly 65 percent of U.S. households, compared with 88 percent adoption in Singapore, and 95 percent adoption in South Korea."    

A recent study released by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) confirms that in October 2009, approximately 63.5 percent of U.S. households have high-speed broadband internet access--a 25 percent increase from two years ago in October 2007, when just 50.8 percent of U.S. households reported high-speed broadband internet access. The United States is currently ranked twentieth in household broadband percentages.

The "100 Squared" plan is not the only thing we can expect in the upcoming broadband plan--other recommendations will include improvement of the E-Rate program (a program designed to bring telecommunications and internet access to schools and libraries), lowering the cost of broadband (both wired and wireless) through use of government rights of way and conduits, and modernization of the FCC's rural telemedicine program (by connecting thousands of clinics).

With an internet speed of 100M bps, it would take approximately 80 seconds to transfer a 1GB file--much faster than the 35 minutes it takes to transfer that file over the current average U.S. connection speed of 3.9M bps.

The FCC's "100M bps for 100 million homes" sounds promising, but Genachowski's speech leaves room for many questions. The FCC has given no details on how they expect to implement such a lofty plan, on how it will be made affordable to the potential 100 million (considering there is a strong suggestion that one of the factors holding people back from broadband is price), and on whether the 100 million will actually put such fast internet to use.

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