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FCC Chief Raises Curtain on Bits of Broadband Plan

in Broadband Updates/Broadband's Impact/FCC/National Broadband Plan/Recovery Act/Smart Grid/Wireless by

Washington, February 16, 2010 - Federal Communications Commission chief Julius Genachowski previewed the agency’s upcoming plan to outfit the nation with broadband access in a speech at a winter committee meeting of the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners.

Genachowski called the expansion of broadband to all Americans the greatest infrastructure project of this generation.

He said that while some members of the broadband community compare the big broadband rollout to the expansion of the intrastate highway system, it’s really more like the expansion of electricity in that broadband is a general-purpose technology. It enables its users to benefit not so much from its direct use, but for its ability to enhance indirectly various aspects of their lives.

Access to broadband is not only access to the internet, but also access to low cost communications, an endless stream of knowledge, the ability to access educational opportunities, access to jobs and creating a more efficient energy grid, he said.

Genachowski compared the aim of the broadband plan to the 1934 Communications Act creating the FCC and regulating and expanding telephone service.

He touted the benefits of broadband, saying a college student with broadband is twice as productive as one without access.

He also highlighted a Veterans Administration telehealth pilot program that has reduced hospital admission by 19 percent.

Although he praised broadband’s merits, he bemoaned its current state: “Despite significant private investment we still don’t have enough broadband.”

The lack of availability is the largest barrier currently for adoption. Twenty-six percent of rural businesses have no access to cable while 14 million have no access to any form of broadband.

Genachowski praised the recent announcement by Google to conduct trials providing ultra high-speed access to some communities across America, and he called for additional private competition to spur competition.

In his preview of the upcoming national broadband plan, Genachowski cited a program that has a goal of providing 100 million Americans with 100 megabit access. " Our plan will set goals for the U.S. to have the world’s largest market of very high-speed broadband users. A “100 Squared” initiative -- 100 million households at 100 megabits per second -- to unleash American ingenuity and ensure that businesses, large and small, are created here, move here, and stay here.

And we should stretch beyond 100 megabits. The U.S. should lead the world in ultra-high-speed broadband testbeds as fast, or faster, than anywhere in the world. In the global race to the top, this will help ensure that America has the infrastructure to host the boldest innovations that can be imagined.”

He also said the Universal Service Fund, which is designed to bring communications services to the neediest parts of the country, should include broadband.

Additionally, he said the E-Rate, which provides broadband access to millions of schools, needs improvements to allow for increased usability.

In regards to universal service goals, Genachowski said the rate of adoption should be set at above 90 percent with a speed of greater than 2 megabits per second, which is faster than most other nations provide.

The plan’s goal should be not only to improve access and adoption but to ensure competitiveness with the rest of the world. Most of Asia and large parts of Europe already have national broadband plans and have begun to implement improvements in access and speed.

One of the key parts of the upcoming plan is an increase in access to spectrum because mobile access is an area which can provide great access for low cost for many Americans, but additional spectrum is necessary to realize its goals, according to Genachowski.

He also discussed modernizing rural telehealth; lowering the cost of expanding wired and wireless networks, and creating an interoperable public safety network.

Rahul Gaitonde has been writing for since the fall of 2009, and in May of 2010 he became Deputy Editor. He was a fellow at George Mason University’s Long Term Governance Project, a researcher at the International Center for Applied Studies in Information Technology and worked at the National Telecommunications and Information Administration. He holds a Masters of Public Policy from George Mason University, where his research focused on the economic and social benefits of broadband expansion. He has written extensively about Universal Service Fund reform, the Broadband Technology Opportunities Program and the Broadband Data Improvement Act

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