FCC Broadband Plan Under Fire From All Sides

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The National Broadband Plan proposed by the FCC expected to be submitted to Congress on March 17 is already under fire. Depending on who you ask, the $25 billion plan to expand and modernize the broadband infrastructure in the United States is either overly ambitious, or completely inadequate.

My PCWorld colleague David Coursey declared "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."

Matt Hamblen, an IDG colleague at ComputerWorld, agrees "In fact, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) plan is so far-reaching that Congress is unlikely to do much with it, the analysts said, citing Congress' difficulty in tackling such massive efforts."

FCC chairman Julius Genachowski, the architect of the broadband vision, must be feeling a little like Adam Lambert's current hit: What Do You Want From Me?

The FCC is in a seemingly no-win situation. If it does nothing, end users and smaller companies complain that it needs to provide more assertive oversight. If it tries to exert some authority over the industry it is chartered to oversee, there is a backlash from politicians and their major corporate

What is the FCC's role? I mean, aside from ensuring that somebody pay a very serious price for accidentally showing Janet Jackson's nipple for a fraction of a second during a Super Bowl halftime show.

Should the FCC create the vision for the future and drive the evolution of the private sector to meet that goal? Should the FCC stand back and let the invisible hand of the free-market economy dictate the pace of investment and development of the broadband infrastructure?

The solution has to be a mix of all of the above. As the federal agency saddled with the responsibility of overseeing the communications industry, the FCC should be expected to have a plan and a vision for the future. However, as the companies that will make billions off of customers using the infrastructure, the existing major corporations should be expected to invest heavily in achieving that vision rather than expecting Uncle Sam to pick up the tab.

Broadband providers want to have their cake and eat it too. They want the federal government to invest tax dollars in expanding the broadband infrastructure so they can be the beneficiaries of the government's altruism, then turn around capitalize on Uncle Sam's investment to rake in cash--as long as the FCC stays out of their way and doesn't bother them with silly things like guidance, or oversight.

The problem right now is that the main stakeholder in the whole process is really the only stakeholder with little to no voice or power: the users. While the FCC battles it out with the broadband providers, it faces increased pressure from politicians that control the fate of the FCC budget, who in turn face increased pressure from lobbyists (representing the broadband providers) that control the fate of their campaign budgets. It's a vicious circle that excludes the actual users that depend on the broadband.

Congress can't be relied on to fund such an ambitious effort by the FCC, and the private sector can't be relied on to invest and expand the broadband infrastructure fast enough to meet demand without some incentive or consequences.

Instead of picking the FCC plan apart and trying to identify all of the ways it won't work, the various parties involved in the process and outcome should cooperate to figure out what will work. Pointing fingers at the FCC isn't going to accomplish anything.

Tony Bradley is co-author of Unified Communications for Dummies. He tweets as @Tony_BradleyPCW, and can be contacted at his Facebook page.

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