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This past month, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) issued a roadmap detailing its vision for the future of the Internet in America – The National Broadband Plan.  
 
The National Broadband Plan arose from the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, and its mandate that the FCC develop a plan to ensure every American has “access to broadband capability.”  Congress required that the FCC develop a detailed strategy to economically maximize the use of broadband to advance “consumer welfare, civic participation, public safety and homeland security, community development, health care delivery, energy independence and efficiency, education, employee training, private sector investment, entrepreneurial activity, job creation and economic growth, and other national purposes.”  To develop that strategy, the FCC initially held 36 public workshops with more than 10,000 attendees, refined the ideas developed in those workshops through replies to 31 public notices garnering 23,000 comments from 700 parties, and held 9 public hearings to clarify issues that remained.
The Plan is the culmination of that public process, and focuses on four major areas:
 
First, designing policies to ensure competition in the broadband marketplace (network services, devices, applications and content), maximizing consumer welfare, innovation and investment.  The Plan includes recommendations to research broadband pricing and competition in the marketplace, develop disclosure requirements for broadband service providers, review wholesale competition rules in fixed and mobile broadband services industries, free up and allocate spectrum, update rules for wireless backhaul spectrum, develop a competitive market in video navigation devices (set-top boxes), clarify and promote state and local broadband capability, and protecting consumer privacy online.
 
Second, overseeing efficient allocation and use of government assets in two areas – spectrum and infrastructure.  On the spectrum front, the Plan makes recommendations to: (1) make 500 MHz of spectrum available for broadband within 10 years, of which 300 megahertz should be available for mobile use; (2) promote repurposed spectrum for more flexible uses; (3) ensure greater transparency in the spectrum allocation process; and (4) creating innovative spectrum access models.  On the infrastructure front, optimization of existing resources by: (1) establishing more uniform rates for access to service poles, including attachment of facilities; (2) improving rights-of-way management; (3) facilitating new infrastructure construction; and (4) providing ultra-high speed broadband capability to the Department of Defense.
 
Third, incentivizing universal availability and adoption of broadband through ensuring universal access to broadband network services, creating mechanisms for low-income Americans to be ensured broadband access, expansion of the existing Lifeline and Link-Up programs, and an education program to teach digital literacy skills.
 
Fourth, aligning national broadband use with national priorities, including in the areas of health care, education, energy and the environment, as well as economic opportunity, government performance and civic engagement, as well as public safety and homeland security.
 
In addition to these recommendations, the FCC’s Plan sets out six “compass” goals for the next decade: 

  1. At least 100 million U.S. homes should have affordable access to actual download speeds of at least 100 megabits per second and actual upload speeds of at least 50 megabits per second.
  2. The United States should lead the world in mobile innovation, with the fastest and most extensive wireless networks of any nation.
  3. Every American should have affordable access to robust broadband service, and the means and skills to subscribe if they so choose.
  4. Every community should have affordable access to at least 1 Gbps broadband service to anchor institutions such as schools, hospitals and government buildings.
  5. To ensure the safety of Americans, every first responder should have access to a nationwide public safety wireless network.
  6. To ensure that America leads in the clean energy economy, every American should be able to use broadband to track and manage their real-time energy consumption. 

The 360-page report is just the beginning of a massive implementation process.  The next steps are publishing a timetable for Plan implementation, publishing an evaluation of plan progress and effectiveness, and creation of a Broadband Data Depository for broadband information.  As previously, reported, development and process of the FCC’s Plan implementation can be followed at the FCC’s dedicated National Broadband Plan blog, Blogband.

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