With all of the attention the FCC National Broadband Plan has received over the past few months, you would expect that releasing the actual 376-page document--Connecting America: The National Broadband Plan--would be the end game. On the contrary, publishing the document is just the beginning.
As much resistance as the FCC has experienced just trying to draft a plan, it seems that political opponents--and the lobbyists, and big business interests that back them--have treated the plan itself as the target. However, the FCC plan is not a government directive; it's a blueprint that is still a work in progress. To its credit, the FCC has provided equal opportunity for dialog and debate for both public and private interests throughout the process of developing the plan.
What now? Now the real work begins. The FCC is planning a series of 40 or so proceedings over the next few months to engage in more detailed discussion of the "how" to go with the "what". The authority of the FCC to pursue its ambitious initiatives has been called into question, and the FCC will need to work closely with private sector interests to bring the proposals in the plan to life.
Jim Burger, an attorney with the law firm of Dow Lohnes specializing in representation of technology companies on intellectual property, entertainment content licensing, communications and government policy matters, commented via e-mail to clarify "Much of what the FCC proposes is well within its authority, particularly in areas like universal service and spectrum allocation where it already has existing rules or a specific right to act under the Communications Act."
Jed Kolko, a technology expert with the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC), e-mailed me to note "The National Broadband Plan comes at a time when roughly two-thirds of households subscribe to broadband--up from 2 percent just ten years ago--and well over 90 percent of households live where broadband is available."
A statement from Linda Criddle, President of the Safe Internet Alliance, applauds the FCC broadband plan, but also urges a strong focus on consumer safety. "The FCC's own survey found that nearly half of those Americans who remain offline do so in part because they fear "all the bad things that can happen on the Internet." Among those who are already online, the survey found that 65 percent strongly agree there is too much pornography and offensive material on the Internet. And 57 percent strongly agree that it is too easy for their personal information to be stolen online, while 46 percent strongly agree that the Internet is too dangerous for children."
Kolko also sees the FCC plan as an opportunity to address the growing digital divide. "With broadband so widespread, it is no longer a luxury, and those who lack broadband will increasingly find themselves at a disadvantage in the economy and society. The Plan is designed to close these remaining gaps in availability and adoption."
The Safe Internet Alliance's Criddle agrees that the United States is in danger of leaving a portion of the population on the wrong side of the digital divide. She also stresses user awareness education for those just joining the online community. "The FCC is creating an initiative to teach digital literacy skills, but those need to encompass digital safety skills such as recognizing a phishing scam or teaching consumers to identify how information leaks, and avoid posting personal information in public access websites. These skills should also be driven home in public service announcements and public awareness campaigns."
The question remains regarding whether or not the FCC has either the scope of authority, or political clout with Congress to be able to drive adoption of the proposals laid out in Connecting America: The National Broadband Plan.
Burger stated in his e-mail "It is likely that the FCC will be able to accomplish much of the portion of the agenda that's within its control. The toughest issues are the same ones that have been bedeviling the FCC for years--changes in the basic universal service program and intercarrier compensation--and the ones that require the FCC to take something away from existing businesses, like repurposing broadcast spectrum."
However, Burger also pointed out that the FCC shied away from some potentially more controversial provisions. "The Plan, did not, as the MPAA requested, include core online copy protection principles. Rather, the Plan made a few "discrete suggestions" to Congress to liberalize the Copyright Act for education and public broadcasting use of content online."
As I have said repeatedly over the past few months, and particularly over the past couple of weeks leading up to the release of the full FCC plan--the FCC can't do this alone, but getting it done is imperative to the future of technology and communications in the United States.
The FCC plan is a step in the right direction, and with the support of Congress and cooperation from private sector interests, it has the potential to start catching our rules and our digital infrastructure up with modern technology.