FCC Broadband Plan Likely to Meet Financial Resistance

It won't be released for two weeks, but the FCC's national broadband plan is already drawing critics, who say it is overly broad and unworkable. The plan, a child of FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski, calls for as much as $25 billion in spending, money Congress isn't likely to part with easily or all at once.

Businesses should watch the plan carefully as, to whatever extent it becomes law, it is likely to have a huge impact on how they communicate. Rural broadband, for example, could extend business-class Internet access to many places that lack it today, while changes in available frequencies will definitely impact wireless services, availability, and pricing.

Genachowski will need to make a very strong and ongoing case for the positive long-term economic impact of his proposals if they are to gain any traction with the public and lawmakers.

While many critics will talk about dollars, others are already saying that Genachowski's plan may not be bold enough to meet America's telecommunications needs.

Due to be announced on March 17, the plan has been previewed by Genachowski during recent speeches and the Wall Street Journal has reported on some of the plan's details. It reportedly includes $9 million in improvements to rural broadband, a new $9-$16 billion wireless network for first responders, and reclaiming spectrum from television broadcasters, among other proposals.

It is probably fair to say the plan as a whole will be dead-on-arrival when it lands on lawmakers' desks. To have any chance of passage, critics say it must be broken into a number of smaller pieces to be acted upon individually.

Still, having such a comprehensive plan may be useful in demonstrating how telecommunications issues fit together, especially in terms of over-the-air services that compete for radio spectrum. Potentially, Genachowski's plan could inform policymakers for a generation, though the rate of technological change is more likely to make it a snapshot of this moment in time.

Improvements to broadband access, the new first-responder wireless network, and freeing up radio spectrum space are priorities that many lawmakers already support. Finding money to pay for those priorities, in a nation still mired in recession and debt, will be much more difficult.

It is the financial aspects of the proposal, as much as its details, that are likely to be controversial. Congress has already dedicated $7.2 billion of stimulus money to improving rural Internet access and a request for more will fall on many deaf ears.

I am sure Genachowski's plan, which will reportedly not be presented to the full FCC for approval, will contain many worthwhile ideas. In technological terms, it may be a winner, envisioning a time when radio systems will automatically find radio spectrum space that is available on an as-needed basis and when 100 million American households will have 100Mbps broadband connections.

From what little we know about the plan today, there is cause to be hopeful. However, it will be launched into an unfriendly world where money is increasingly hard to find.

David Coursey has been writing about technology products and companies for more than 25 years. He tweets as @techinciter and may be contacted via his Web site.

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