WASHINGTON, April 8, 2009 - The Federal Communications Commission on Wednesday approved a notice of inquiry seeking comments on the FCC’s role in developing a national broadband strategy – a key part of the broadband stimulus portion of the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act.
"At long last we are getting serious," said acting chairman Michael Copps, who added the agency has "never had a more serious charge" than developing a national broadband strategy.
Broadband, Copps said, could be engine to power America out of the recent economic downturn. And Copps said he was quite cognizant of the seriousness of his task and the need for a positive result: "If we do our job well, this will be the most formative — indeed transformative — proceeding ever in the commission’s history."
Copps, who has been at the FCC since 2001, lamented that it took eight years to start the process of recognizing broadband’s importance to the future of the country, the result of a "cavalier approach to an urgent national problem."
Copps was effusive in his praise for the new administration's priority on broadband access and the mandate Congress has given the commission. "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."
Commissioner Jonathan Adelstein, who has been tapped to lead the expanded $2.5 billion Rural Utilities Service grant program authorized under the stimulus, was equally pleased to jump start what he said was a long overdue task, and praised the Democratic leadership in Congress for including the mandate for a broadband plan, which Adelstein has been pushing for many years now.
"While it should not have taken an act of Congress to get us to do our jobs," he said, "the fact that Congress acted gives us the funding to do it right, and provides us the mandate to draft an authoritative plan."
The plan will require infrastructure improvements nationwide, as well as cooperation from stakeholders in both the public and private sector that will benefit almost every aspect of the American economy, he said. "It’s clearly...in the interests of our health care system, our environment, our education system, our energy grid, our transportation network, our public safety agencies."
Adelstein was clear in emphasizing that the FCC will not be "substituting government policy for market discipline." But public-private partnerships will be as essential as inter-agency cooperation within the government for carrying out the plan, he said: "We need all players to work together."
Commissioner Robert McDowell was enthusiastic, but cautioned that the plan should be technology-neutral and allow for innovation as well as increased penetration.
"[I]t is essential that our plan give current and prospective broadband network and service providers the proper incentives to deploy new technologies," said McDowell. This includes letting entrepreneurs use "all available spectrum, including the television white spaces."
And consumers should be taken into account when designing network access policies, McDowell said. In particular, consumers should be allowed to download the content of their choice from the source of their choice without regulation.
"The market is rushing to satisfy the latest consumer demand in this regard," he said. "Let’s make sure the government does not get in the way of these developments."
The Notice of Inquiry should be available soon, an FCC spokesman said. Interested parties can file comments on the FCC website under GN Docket No. 09-51.
Broadband Breakfast Club
Don’t miss the opportunity to register for the April 14, 2009, Broadband Breakfast Club at the Old Ebbitt Grill. The theme of the April meeting will be, “Spending the Stimulus: Can States’ Front-line Experiences Expedite Broadband Deployment?” Register at http://broadbandbreakfast.eventbrite.com.
Confirmed speakers include Karen Jackson, Office of Telework Promotion and Broadband Assistance, Commonwealth of Virginia; Betty Ann Kane, Chairman, D.C. Public Service Commission; and Sue A. Suleski, Technology Investment Specialist and Program Manager for the Pennsylvania Broadband Initiative.