National Broadband Plan: A Look at Chapters 1 & 2

WASHINGTON, March 26, 2010 – The national broadband plan aims to present not just a roadmap of how to expand broadband but also to provide a long-term vision of innovation. While the first chapter of the plan explains its overarching goals and congressional mandate, the plan is really outlined in th

Editor’s Note: This is the first in a series of articles written by staff summarizing each chapter of the FCC’s National Broadband Plan.

WASHINGTON, March 26, 2010 – The national broadband plan aims to present not just a roadmap of  broadband expansion, but also to provide a long-term vision of innovation. While the first chapter of the plan explains its overarching goals and congressional mandate, the plan is really outlined in the second chapter. The plan has six goals that the Federal Communications Commission plans to achieve through four general recommendations.

Looking at the recommendations, they’re not distinct policy actions to be taken but a series of overall actions to be taken to create a more inviting environment for future innovation.

Looking at the other major broadband plans published by South Korea, Japan, Sweden and Germany, the FCC clearly recognized the need for increased competition in order to maximize consumer welfare.

The second general recommendation deals with the physical expansion of the network by working with localities to make it easier to obtain permits for the installation of poles, cables and other network equipment. In addition to the physical network, the FCC feels that the available spectrum needs to be inventoried and cataloged in order for more efficient use; this may include the redistribution of government-owned spectrum.

The Universal Service System needs direct reform; specifically the high-cost system that currently subsidizes telephone service needs to be redirected for the use of broadband funds. This transformation needs to occur for low-income Americans and others.

The final recommendation is the most vague. It simply states that laws and policies and standards need to be reformed in order to allow the government to influence public education health care and other government operations to be better used over the Internet.

Looking over the six goals, some of them have direct implications while others are simply overall statements designed to allow for the improvement of broadband availability.

The plan’s first goal is the most lofty and the most concrete: “at least 100,000,000 U.S. homes should have affordable access to an actual download speeds of at least 100 megabits per second and a dual upload speeds of at least 15 megabits per second.”

The FCC plans to achieve this goal by ensuring that every American has accurate actual performance data. It recently released its own speed-test service using data provided by M lab and others to allow consumers to determine their actual speeds. This will allow the FCC to determine what the differential is between what consumers actually get and what ISPs claim they are delivering.

In later sections of the plan, the FCC goes into more detail about actual vs. advertised. The specific goal is that by 2015, 100 million Americans should have affordable access with actual download speeds of 50 megabits per second and actual upload speeds of 20 mbps. This benchmark will allow the agency to determine in five years the actions of helping to achieve the ultimate goal or whether new policies should be enacted.

With the rise of smartphones and netbooks, the mobile connectivity of Americans has been steadily increasing. Numerous studies have concluded that many minorities and low-income households use the mobile Internet to connect.  In order to expand the mobile network, the FCC plans to work with locality staff to allow for easier pole placement but also to expand spectrum. Specifically, the agency  plans to lift the 500 MHz band and make it available by 2020 with making 300 MHz available by 2015.

When looking at why Americans don’t have access, the most obvious reason is a lack of physical connectivity. However, with the over-expanding network, the lack of use it is becoming more attributable to a lack of digital literacy or basic affordability.  With regards to digital literacy, the commission proposes the creation of the digital literacy corps. This new program is expanded upon later in the plan.

In order to tackle the issue of affordability,  the Universal Service Fund and intercarrier compensation will be reevaluated. The goal is that over the next 10 years both programs will be modified to allow for a shift from telephone service to broadband service. Unfortunately with limited funding, telephone service will no longer become a focus. In addition to the universal service program, the Life Link and Link Up services that are used to bring telephone service to low-income communities, will be expanded to include broadband.

In order to achieve true ubiquity, institutions such as schools, hospitals, government buildings and libraries also need a high-speed connectivity. Here the FCC is pushing for a one gigabit per second connection for these anchor institutions. The FCC also plans to reevaluate the rural healthcare support programs. Additionally, it would like nonprofit and public institutions to work together to obtain better connectivity.

The fifth goal is one of the concrete goals which the FCC has proposed after the 911 Commission released a report addressing emergency responder systems. The 911 group found that emergency personnel were unable to communicate with each other across various systems since many of them are not interoperable. The FCC is proposing a new nationwide wireless interoperable public safety network to be completed no later than 2020. This would allow first responders, hospital personnel, fire and police officers to communicate using one unifying network.

The final goal addresses a tangential benefit of a high-speed network – access to energy information. A smart grid would allow all Americans to access direct energy information on pricing and consumption ball and allow for the easier transmission of energy across the United States. This could enable better load management and price control.  According to the plan, studies demonstrate that when people get feedback on their electricity usage, they make simple behavioral changes that save energy.

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