FCC Boots Up National Broadband Plan

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) unanimously approved a measure this morning that will seek public input about how to proceed with a "national broadband plan" that aims to bring affordable high-speed Internet access to all Americans.

Born out of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, the FCC, at the direction of Congress, must deliver the details of the plan by Feb. 17, 2010. About $7.2 billion has been allocated for the broadband component of the broader "stimulus plan." (See FCC Puts Broadband Plan in Motion.)

The FCC, via a new Notice of Inquiry, will now seek comments from all "interested parties," which include, but aren't limited to, consumers, businesses, and non-profit organizations. The FCC hopes to vet the most effective and efficient ways to bring high-speed Internet services to the entire country, with a special focus on areas that remain out of broadband's reach. As part of the effort, the agency will try to pin down how extensively broadband is already deployed.

"We begin, at last, to do what we should have done years ago -- make a plan for how the United States becomes the world's broadband beacon," FCC Acting Chairman Michael J. Copps said during this morning's meeting.

"Broadband is no longer a luxury," added FCC Commissioner Jonathan Adelstein.

The cable industry has already started to weigh in about how those funds should be spent.

The American Cable Association (ACA) is urging the FCC to spread some of those dollars to its membership, holding that small and mid-sized operators are perfectly positioned to help close the "broadband gap" in rural regions of the country.

Cable's top pressure group, the National Cable & Telecommunications Association (NCTA) , has recommended that funds flow to a small portion of homes that have no physical access to broadband services and to consumers who can't afford those services. It's also urging the government to be careful how it spends the dough in "underserved" areas and ensure that the process doesn't end up stimulating new competitors, which could end up butting heads with cable MSOs that have already spent their own funds building and developing broadband services. The NCTA has also called on any cash awards to be "technologically neutral." (See Stimulating Conversations .)

FCC Commissioner Robert McDowell echoed that sentiment during this morning's meeting, warning that the Commission must look at all wired and wireless proposals, but to be careful not to favor one technology over another.

"Broadband deployment throughout America simply is not a one-size-fits-all proposition," he said. "Wireline, wireless, and satellite technologies are meaningful alternatives, each worthy of our attention."

In a comment that might put a scare into cable, McDowell said "entrepreneurs" must be given access to "all available spectrum, including the television white spaces," referring to unused broadcast spectrum that will become available after all full-power TV broadcasters finally relinquish their analog spectrum on June 12. The cable industry has issued multiple warnings that broadband devices that use white spaces can cause harmful interference to cable services. (See Cable Worried About 'White Space' Tech, FCC Rocks the 'White Spaces' Vote , and Broadcasters Rally 'Round June 12 .)

— Jeff Baumgartner, Site Editor, Cable Digital News

paolo.franzoi 12/5/2012 | 4:07:28 PM
re: FCC Boots Up National Broadband Plan


Okay, here is a really simple idea.  I can not imagine this idea being implemented, but what the heck I will toss it out.

1 - Turn Broadband into a Universal Service

2 - Set a minimum data rate for this service of say 5/1 Mb/s.

3 - Set a date (10 years) where this minimum data rate doubles

4 - repeat step 3

Now one would have to allow for lower level tiers, but the idea is every residence must be allowed to purchase the "universal" service.  I am okay with upping these rates sooner and faster, but I just picked some numbers.

Give the industry say 3 (5?) years to deliver.



t.bogataj 12/5/2012 | 4:07:26 PM
re: FCC Boots Up National Broadband Plan


it's not the industry that needs time, it's the US regulators that need to get it.

Basically, you are proposing the US to follow the EU's path, where the notion of broadband as a universal service was just introduced.

What makes you think that the idea can not be implemented?


paolo.franzoi 12/5/2012 | 4:07:24 PM
re: FCC Boots Up National Broadband Plan


The RBOCs and Cable Companies would object strenuously and lobby the idea out of existence.




rjs 12/5/2012 | 4:07:24 PM
re: FCC Boots Up National Broadband Plan

I agree Seven. It is will NEVER happen. It is too simple for FCC to implement. It is too simple for the Oligarchs to allow it to take a foot-hold.

Between FCC and the Big Four (VZ, ATT, TimeWarner and Comcast) the system has been crippled to prevent any start up from bringing innovation. At this rate all the telecom startups will be from outside US .... actually, it already is!

The only way is to separate the bit carriers from the service providers and prevent tie-in between services and transport. This is more an enforcement of current anti-competitive laws than new legislation and regulation. Too bad it will never happen .... too much money at stake for the politicians and monopolists.

In the mean time expect US to be denigrated to a third world status all because the incumbents like to keep the status quo.



paolo.franzoi 12/5/2012 | 4:07:23 PM
re: FCC Boots Up National Broadband Plan



I want to make sure that you understand universal service because I suspect some do not.  What it would mean is that every person in the US can order such a service and that the provider must provide the service.  This is a legal mechanism and carriers will be fined if they can not provide such a service.



sgan201 12/5/2012 | 4:07:21 PM
re: FCC Boots Up National Broadband Plan


Let's assume that this kind of regulation passed.  Assuming that I have a house up in the mountain at Montana in the middle of nowhere, whose resposibility is to provide me this universal service??  How is this going to be funded??




menexis 12/5/2012 | 4:07:20 PM
re: FCC Boots Up National Broadband Plan I don't think this idea will fly as cable companies that are not getting a contract to carry this out will object to this. What is affordable high-speed Internet access? For this to work, all parties that are currently providing high speed internet has to get involve to get a piece of the pie. And we all know that there is no way to give contracts to all of these companies.
paolo.franzoi 12/5/2012 | 4:07:20 PM
re: FCC Boots Up National Broadband Plan


The same company that must mandatorily provide you POTS.

There is already a universal service fund.  Being a carrier of last resort, it is mandatory that you provide all universal services.  If you are a carrier that has long lines (rural carriers for example), you get high cost loop support.



paolo.franzoi 12/5/2012 | 4:07:18 PM
re: FCC Boots Up National Broadband Plan



The US has 2 pools of money that have been around for a long time (since the 1930s).

First is the RUS money which has traditionally been loans (more may be grants) to help small carriers purchase equipment.  Second is USF funds which are subsidies for carriers with lots of high cost areas.

The issue in the US is that the RBOCs basically get none of these funds and spend almost no money on their rural areas.  They have already rejected the stimulus money and there are reports they are working to defeat the use of these funds altogether. 



jepovic 12/5/2012 | 4:07:18 PM
re: FCC Boots Up National Broadband Plan

The rules in EU are not quite as impressive as they may sound. Every country must set at minimum speed which all citizens should be able to get, but this speed may be very low. In Sweden, which has a high broadband usage but also large very rural areas, the minimum speed has recently been raised from 9.6 to 20 kbit/s. This is because wireless access is the only feasible way of reaching many households.

However, for the more 'normal' rural areas, Sweden had an interesting model a few years ago. The central government created a fund from which the cities could apply for money for broadband development. The requirement was that the contract for the buildout was awarded in competition. Thus, a city would announce they wanted someone to build out broadband for say 15 000 households. Each operator would create a bid, and in principle the lowest bid (the least subsidy) would get the contract. Then the city would get most of the subsidy paid for by the central fund. In most cases, the practical effect was that DSLAMs were built out in areas where it wouldn't have been profitable without subsidies. This meant something like 96% rather than 80% could get DSL after the buildouts. The last few percent were still too expensive.

Less encouraging is the fact that the incumbent, TeliaSonera, got a large portion of the contracts. However, it is also quite clear from the relatively low subsidies that Telia pitched in with substantial amounts of money. It seems likely that Telia bid below cost, as a long-term strategic sacrifice. The overall competition was not improved significantly, but at least large parts of the country got DSL for a relatively low amount of tax money (less than anticipated).

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