Unveiling the FCC National Broadband Plan

Drum roll please. After months of hype and speculation, the time has finally come for the FCC to present its National Broadband Plan to Congress. Over the past few weeks FCC chairman Julius Genachowski and other FCC members have hinted at some initiatives in the plan, building some support, but also drawing fire from both sides.

This week the FCC will finally unveil the details of its National Broadband Plan.
Graphic: Chip Taylor
The FCC faces the awesome challenge of modernizing the wireless and broadband communications networks for the United States--a critical component of the national infrastructure, as well as the backbone of commerce and the economy. However, it must do so by going head-to-head with lobbyists and big business interests dedicated to keeping government oversight out of the equation and maintaining the status quo.

That is a daunting task to say the least. It is an even greater challenge when you consider that the FCC has limited authority, and even less budget with which to accomplish its ambitious goals. I have repeated this mantra over and over the past few weeks, but the FCC and the private sector have to find a way to seek common ground and work together.

There are some critical issues under consideration for the FCC National Broadband Plan. Based on what has already been revealed of the plan, the FCC is focused on expanding broadband access--both wired and wireless.

On the wired broadband side, the FCC is pushing to expand 100mbps broadband access to 100 million American homes by 2020--almost doubling the current reach of high-speed broadband. While existing broadband providers like Qwest have predictably balked at the idea as too aggressive, supporters feel that the FCC plan doesn't go far enough. While the FCC pushes for 100mbps broadband, Google is busy developing a plan to pilot test gigabit broadband in select markets.

This one aspect of the National Broadband Plan is a good illustration of the FCC challenge. Resistance from big business interests vested in the status quo, coupled with disappointment from Internet and consumer interests that want to see better advances accomplished sooner.

For wireless broadband, the FCC has suggested a plan to allow broadcast television networks to surrender unused wireless spectrum and, in return, receive a cut of the auction proceeds from reselling the spectrum for use in wireless broadband. Again, big business interests like the National Association of Broadcasters are less than enthusiastic.

In stating its position, the NAB says "Television broadcasters use spectrum to deliver vital news and emergency information and more to viewers across America, free of charge."

The NAB statement goes on to add "Broadcast television provides local and national news and information, universal service, educational programming, and timely and vital emergency information. The future availability of these free services could be threatened if over-the-air broadcast distribution were eliminated or confined to inadequate levels."

Of course, should broadcasters opt to sit on unused wireless spectrum rather than sharing in the proceeds of auctioning it off, the FCC could invoke eminent domain and simply reclaim the spectrum for the greater good. Ultimately, the broadcasters are only borrowing the rights to the airwaves and the United States can choose to reallocate those rights for the benefit of the country.

I have two challenges to throw out. First, I challenge Congress to do more than simply paying lip-service to modernizing broadband for the sake of campaigning. Clarify the scope of authority for the FCC and provide the FCC with the tools it needs to accomplish the tasks it is responsible for.

For big business interests in the private sector, I challenge you to do more than reject the FCC position. Being contrary for the sake of being contrary does not resolve the situation. The FCC is not perfect and it's reasonable to assume that its proposal could be improved. But, if you don't have a better, or at least an alternate suggestion, we have no choice than to move forward with the plan on the table.

Everyone work together and play nice. The future of the Internet and communications in the United States may depend on it.

Tony Bradley is co-author of Unified Communications for Dummies . He tweets as @Tony_BradleyPCW . You can follow him on his Facebook page , or contact him by email at tony_bradley@pcworld.com .

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