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FCC Releases First Draft of National Broadband Plan After Weighing Record

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WASHINGTON, December 17, 2009 – The Federal Communications Commission on Wednesday laid out a rough draft of its national broadband plan after weighing through 66,000 pages of written comments, 27 public notices, 100 items posted on its “blogband” web site, and 700 blog comment posted to the record.

But the agency says it is still difficult to answer key questions that must be addressed within two months time, or by February 17, 2010.

In November, the Commission identified gaps in broadband infrastructure deployment and adoption, and identified shortfalls in adoption and spectrum. This month the FCC laid out the policy framework to help us address the key broadband gaps.

Omnibus Broadband Initiative Executive Director Blair Levin kicked off the meeting by acknowledging the objectives of (1) understanding the principles on how to develop policy and (2) reviewing the policy framework by going through the principles that the policies should be based on.

Levin followed up by stating that the national purposes of the plan will be laid out in the January meeting.

Levin said he wanted to focus on the plan and the situation in America. Other countries have created their own plans but their infrastructures and needs differ in many ways.

He outlined what he called “Principles for Policy Choices”:

  • Private sector investment
  • Competition drives innovation and better choices for consumers
  • Better utilization of existing assets is required (Universal Service Fund, Spectrum, Rights of Way)
  • Policy changes must consider unintended consequences
  • New laws necessary in certain cases, but should be limited

Erik Garr, general manager of broadband initiative, told the audience that there will be no recommendations made, and that the meeting will simply be a discussion on the merits to determine if the ideas are good or not.

Garr introduced the broadband ecosystem as a function of networks , devices, application and content as well as adoption and utility. He then let his fellow bureau chiefs and panelists explain the guideline principle details and frameworks surrounding all of the issues.

In the following sections included as Premium Content, BroadbandBreakfast.com details the Universal Service Fund framework, infrastructure issues, spectrum policy, broadband adoption and utilization, and public safety issues for consideration in the national broadband plan. Premium Content below = 1,386 words.

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Universal Service Fund Framework

Short and medium term action to improve the performance of the current system include cutting inefficient spending in the high cost fund, removing barriers to E-Rate funded connections in schools and libraries, enabling school and libraries with dial-up to migrate towards broadband, and extending the deadline for the Rural Health Care Pilot Program and providing more administrative support to help the participants through the process. Long term transformations focused on shifting the support for broadband services; transforming the High Cost Fund to support specific broadband goals; integrating lifeline with other programs to promote adoption and digital literacy; permitting low income households to use Lifeline support for broadband; and design a new health program to expand affordable broadband connectivity

Infrastructure Principles and Framework

In order to promote additional infrastructure development the plan must include, required partnerships between state federal and local entities to create uniform rental rates for pole attachments and easier access to poles ducts, conduits and rights of way. Additionally, they must include timely and predictable dispute resolution strategies, creative opportunities to coordinate with other agencies and “dig once” for installing infrastructure.

Spectrum Policy Principles and Long Term Planning

To address the spectrum gap, there are three potential paths, said agency officials: find more productive uses of existing bands; make more bandwidth available for broadband services; and develop and deploy technologies to support such uses.

The FCC believes they should pursue all three simultaneously. In order to create more productive uses of existing bands the Commission can provide better transparency and incentives to encourage incumbents to use existing allocations more effectively by:

  • using assessment tools to document and expose current license usage information;
  • performing a periodic spectrum review based on a list of factors created by the FCC and the Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration with respect to specific bands;
  • utilizing spectrum fees and band clearing auctions to drive more effective market allocation; and
  • creating incentives for more efficient use of government owned spectrum.

In making more bandwidth available, the agency would like to consider: identifying new spectrum for licensed and unlicensed use including white spaces, resolve pending spectrum allocation use issues and exploring various proposals that have been submitted, including access to broadcast spectrum while maintaining over-the-air television, access to federal spectrum in conjunction with the NTIA and use of terrestrial operations in mobile satellite spectrum.

Historically, unlicensed spectrum has been home for many innovators. The agency listed a number of ways to require space and development of unlicensed spectrum to promote new devices and applications

The FCC’s Bill Lake introduced the section on TV settop boxes. He began by stating that the “TV is growing up and becoming an internet access device, as well as a place to watch broadcasters and content delivered by other video providers. If we can encourage that trend, the TV which is found in 99 percent of those homes can help to pull broadband into more homes as more applications evolve that take advantage of the converged capabilities.”

This process however would move faster if there was a competitive market for set-top boxes. CableCards have not been working, and cannot produce devices that can be ported if a consumer switches to another video provider. An alternative solution would be to mandate a home gateway device that will be required for all video programmers.

The FCC’s Brian David, addressed the issue of transparency through the consumer information gap and the need to encourage consumer choice. There is a 50 percent gap between advertised and actual speed. Service providers only attribute to part this problem while other issues develop in other parts of the network. In order to provide consumers with better information about actual performance of different services to incent competition and improved performance.

The commission should consider: measurement systems which allow consumers to see differences between average and advertised speeds, ratings systems so consumers or property owners can see relative performance of broadband in their facility, and a clearinghouse of broadband data that is searchable and open to direct consumer feedback.

Commissioner Michael Copps particularly applauded the work that the FCC has done in working with tribal lands. Deployment and adoption lags the U.S. average. First options to consider is how to improve data collection for the tribes, second, whether the plan can cost effectively solve more than one problem by finding ways to deploy fiber to anchor institutions in tribal lands, and finally the plan should consider creation of tribal federal broadband working group to address the tribal specific issues.

Adoption and Utilization

David continued by stating that policies should further local existing efforts for adoption and utilization but bring federal support efforts to the table. He also noted that the private sector also has a stake in increasing adoption. On a similar note accessibility is also a major issue.

There are over 54 million disabled Americans have some accessibility issue. Of these, 42 percent of them have adopted broadband but those with disabilities have unique barriers in terms of cost an usability. Brian continued that the plan should therefore: focus on built in accessibility and interoperability in devices, promote accessible web content and captioning, and promote best practices in training and customer support for dealing with consumers with disabilities.

Public Safety National Purpose

The one national purpose that the Commission addressed in more detail was Public Safety. The FCC’s Jennifer Manner stated that, in developing the plan surrounding public safety, the agency has been driven by three main goals.

First, it wants to improve first responder access to broadband communications; second, it wants to leverage broadband communications to improve pub safety communications; and third, it wants to ensure broadband networks are sound and secure. These goals will be used to create interoperable broadband public safety networks, next generation emergency 911 dialing, next generation alerting, protecting critical infrastructure and address other emergency preparedness issues.

Questions From the Commissioners

Once the broadband team finished their presentation most of the Commissioners withheld their questions. But not Commissioner Copps. He started off by asking the panel to elaborate on the mechanisms for monitoring the plan and implementing the plan.

Levin answered that other countries that have implements broadband plans have developed an ongoing process and there should be institutional policies in place to follow up and analyze the development of the plan. The process should not end when present the plan is presented.

Copps followed up with a question about an independent foundation to focus on adoption. Brian David noted that the idea behind such a foundation would be to create a non-profit foundation tasked with focusing on a minimum of broadband adoption. Whichever way it is created, its mandate would support local efforts with best practice toolkits, intelligence gathering and being a conduit for resources through public private partnership to be most effectively managed.

Chairman Julius Genachowski warned the attendees that while at some point the process feels like Blair Levin might be channeling Bill Murry in “Groundhog Day”: there is a point where all the information comes together and the team can then process all of the information they have been hearing over and over again and place it to good use.

Genachowski followed with Erik Garr’s comment that in crafting a plan we must be aspirational and practical in how we achieve them – aspirational because opportunities for the country could be immense, and practical because there are a number of hard truths that come with implementing such a plan.

Genachowski ended his remarks by focusing on the need to redirect USF to bring broadband services to all; and that to fully achieve a transformation of the USF, the agency must tackle contribution to the fund in a smart way.

Second, he commended the planning team on their work in the mobile broadband area and reminded the audience about the powerful evidence that the demand for mobile broadband spectrum will overcome supply if we do not come up with “more bandwidth for broadband.”

Finally, he lauded the cable industry for their introduction of their adoption plus program that would provide digital literacy discounted services and devices for children without access. Genachowski then also mentioned the bill, by Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.V., to extend broadband on a pilot basis. He asked that all broadband providers take the initiative to “design affordable new offerings for low income households.”[/Private_Free Trial][/Private_Premium Content]

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