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Public Interest Groups Press for Ambitious Broadband Networks As Part of Plan

in Broadband Data/Broadband's Impact/National Broadband Plan by

WASHINGTON, February 18, 2010 – A coalition of public interest groups on Wednesday called on the Federal Communications Commission to include a set of ambitious benchmarks and policies in the agency’s upcoming national broadband plan.

The agency will discuss aspects of the national broadband plan, now due on March 17, 2010, at the February monthly meeting being held on Wednesday.

The public interest groups issued their challenge to the FCC on the date the Plan was originally due to Congress, before the FCC sought a month-long delay.

The groups, including Consumer Federation of America, Consumers Union, Free Press, New America Foundation and Public Knowledge, urged the FCC to embrace the following five benchmarks:

  • The FCC should set a goal that U.S. broadband adoption of world-class networks shall equal current rate of telephone adoption, over 90%, by 2020.
  • The FCC should set a goal of substantially improving the level of competition between providers of broadband Internet access to move the country out of a stagnant duopoly by the end of 2012.
  • The FCC should set a goal of establishing real consumer protections for broadband customers within 12-18 months.
  • The FCC should set a goal of implementing new broadband data collection standards and rules for utilizing that data in market analyses by the end of 2010.
  • The FCC should set a goal of establishing rules protecting open markets for speech and commerce on broadband networks as soon as feasible.

The overall tone of the presentation was forward looking, with each panelist speaking on a different aspect of the benchmark goals.

Joel Kelsey from Consumer’s Union focused on the availability of information, and asserted that consumers make better decisions when they have clear information, and that more information would lead to higher broadband adoption rates. He also stated that internet providers can and should be honest with subscribers.

Harold Feld from Public Knowledge stressed that there is no substitute for competition. In order to achieve a more competitive environment, Feld suggested that the FCC establish real benchmarks, engage in spectrum reform, and also reform special access so competitors can afford to bring consumers the service they deserve.

Ben Scott from Free Press zeroed in on the need for an open Internet. He said that the Internet must remain open because an open market is essential for commerce. Scott also stated that openness is more than net neutrality and stressed that interconnection is essential in telecommunications infrastructure and devices, especially since set-top boxes will one day be the gateway to Internet access.

In order for these benchmarks to be achieved, accurate data is essential. Benjamin Lennet from New America Foundation said that without accurate data, agencies cannot make informed decisions. He said that the nation should rely on the wisdom of the crowds and make internet measurement data widely available.

Mark Cooper from Consumer Federation of America repeatedly referred to the universal service fund when explaining the policy goals for the national broadband plan. According to Cooper, the USF measures at the household level. The policy-oriented question should be, therefore, “does this household have broadband service?”

A representative from the office of Rep. Cliff Stearns’s, R-Fla., asked why the focus of broadband policy should be on what networks, instead of on adoption.

The panelists overwhelmingly agreed that digital inclusion and digital evolution are both important policy goals, but there is no need to see conflicts between the goals. In other words, panelists said that better networks and better adoption were not an either/or proposition, but that consumers want both.

Rachel is a third year law student at The Columbus School of Law, Catholic University of America where she is a member of the Institute for Communications Law Studies. She also has a bachelor's degree in Business Administration from Seton Hall University. Rachel was formerly a summer intern in the Office of Policy Analysis and Development at the National Telecommunications and Information Administration.

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