FCC Moves Toward National Broadband Policy

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The U.S. Federal Communications Commission has taken the first step toward creating a strategy to roll out broadband to every corner of the country, with a vote Wednesday to seek public comment on how to write a national broadband plan.

Commissioners voted 3-0 to approve an effort to seek public comment on a national broadband plan, required by the U.S. Congress in an economic stimulus package passed earlier this year. The plan, scheduled to be completed by next February, would supplement the US$7.2 billion for broadband deployment in the stimulus package.

Most broadband experts suggest the $7.2 billion won't be nearly enough to cover the entire nation with broadband service. The U.S. needs a national broadband policy to realize the full economic benefits of the technology, said Michael Copps, the FCC's acting chairman.

"Broadband can be the great enabler that restores America's economic well-being and opens doors of opportunity for all Americans to pass through, no matter who they are, where they live, or the particular circumstances of their individual lives," Copps said. "It is technology that intersects with just about every great challenge confronting our nation -- whether it's jobs, education, energy, climate change and the environment, international competitiveness, health care, overcoming disabilities, equal opportunity -- the list goes on."

The broadband proceeding has the chance to be "the most formative -- indeed transformative -- proceeding ever" in FCC history, Copps added.

The U.S. is losing a competitive advantage to other countries with national broadband plans, added Commissioner Jonathan Adelstein. "Broadband helps us address almost big challenge that we face," he said. "Other countries have been planning this for years, and we're just getting started."

The FCC will seek comments from all U.S. residents about how to create the plan, Adelstein said.

"Broadband is no longer a luxury," he added. "It's essential if we're to maximize the potential of every citizen to contribute to our social, cultural and economic life. We need the full input of every citizen. We need everyone's voice to create a truly national plan that leaves nobody out."

Adelstein and Copps, both Democrats, criticized former President George Bush's administration for failing to create a national broadband plan.

The new effort "means that we are coming to grips with the fact that we have a long way to go to get high-speed, value-laden broadband out to all our citizens," Copps said. "It means that we are beginning to understand that real economic and social progress needs to be fueled by both vigorous private enterprise and enlightened public policy. The missing ingredient until this year has been the enlightened public policy."

Several groups praised the FCC's approach.

"Given its importance to economic growth, job creation, and international competitiveness, creating a climate for investment in advanced broadband networks should be Job One at the FCC," Susanne Guyer, Verizon senior vice president of federal regulatory affairs, said in a statement. "Through this plan, the FCC can take a major step toward ensuring that all Americans have access to broadband networks and have the skills and devices necessary to access the economic and social benefits available through broadband connections."

Gigi Sohn, president of digital rights group Public Knowledge, called the move toward a national policy "long overdue."

"Despite the recognition that high-speed Internet services are necessary, this is the first time a government agency will take a comprehensive look at the situation and recommend a course of action," she said in a statement. "We hope the commission will use every means it has to produce a plan to bring more competition, more features, faster speeds and lower prices to consumers while making certain that no one is left behind."

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