US regulator the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has presented its long-awaited national broadband plan (NBP) to congress. The plan was described by FCC chairman Julius Genachowski as a ‘21st century roadmap to spur economic growth and investment, create jobs, educate our children, protect our citizens, and engage in our democracy… It is an action plan, and action is necessary to meet the challenges of global competitiveness, and harness the power of broadband to help address so many vital national issues.’ The NBP was mandated by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) in February 2009 and produced by an FCC task force that gathered data and input through 36 public workshops, nine field hearings and 31 public notices that produced over 75,000 pages of public comments. The debate continued online via the FCC’s official blog and Twitter and was augmented with independent research and data-gathering.
The NBP hopes to address eight key aims over the next decade in what it calls ‘America’s 2020 Broadband Vision’. These aims are:
• To connect 100 million households to affordable 100Mbps services, building the world’s largest market of high speed broadband users.
• To provide affordable access to ultra high speed broadband of at least 1Gbps in every American community through anchor institutions such as schools, hospitals and military installations.
• To ensure that the US is leading the world in mobile innovation by making 500MHz of spectrum available for licensed and unlicensed use.
• To raise broadband adoption rates from roughly 65% to more than 90% and make sure that every child in America is digitally literate by the time he or she leaves high school.
• To bring affordable broadband to rural communities, schools, libraries, and vulnerable populations by transitioning existing Universal Service Fund (USF) support from yesterday’s analogue technologies to tomorrow’s digital infrastructure.
• To promote competition across the broadband ecosystem by ensuring greater transparency, removing barriers to entry, and conducting market-based analysis with quality data on price, speed, and availability.
• To enhance the safety of the American people by providing every first responder with access to a nationwide, wireless, interoperable public safety network.
The NBP itself is divided into three major sections: ‘Innovation and Investment’, which outlines the FCC’s proposals regarding the promotion of competition, spectrum allocation, infrastructure development, and the funding of research and development; ‘Inclusion’, which focuses on the availability and adoption of broadband; and ‘National Purposes’, which addresses broadband’s influence over the development of other social sectors, such as, healthcare, education and local government. The full plan has been published on the FCC’s website.
Initial industry response has been, on the whole, positive. Comcast chairman and CEO, Brian Roberts, said: ‘The plan appears to reflect the emerging consensus on a number of paramount broadband goals, most notably the need to achieve universal adoption and digital literacy. With the demand for bandwidth doubling every two years, most recognise the critical need for continued private investment in faster competitive broadband networks, and the importance of maintaining a regulatory environment to promote that investment. We hope that implementation of the many recommendations contained in the plan will help to achieve that critical balance.’ Meanwhile, according to computerworld.com, Intel described the plan as ‘meaningful and ambitious’. However, some responses have been more muted, with the National Telecommunications Cooperative Association (NCTA), a group representing rural telecom carriers, questioning whether the NBP adequately encouraged telcos to roll out high speed rural services. NTCA CEO Michael Brunner said: ‘The plan takes a critical first step toward making universal broadband a reality for every American, by recognising the integral role of USF reform in ensuring a viable broadband infrastructure for the future. But to truly achieve the goal of universal broadband, the plan must accurately account for all of the costs associated with providing high quality, affordable broadband to rural and remote areas throughout the country. Put simply, the plan fails to do this right now.’