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

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