FCC Developing Plan To Deliver Broadband

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By Cecilia Kang
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, April 9, 2009

The Federal Communications Commission yesterday began mapping out a plan to bring high-speed Internet service to the entire nation, starting with questions on how to increase its availability, improve its quality of service and make it more affordable.

In a meeting yesterday, acting FCC Chairman Michael J. Copps invited comments from the public on the national broadband plan the agency has been ordered by Congress to complete by February 2010. He said the process for creating the plan will be "open, inclusive, out-reaching and data-hungry."

The meeting was largely intended to set the stage for greater debate on contested policies that could be included in the FCC's broadband plan and would likely be spearheaded by President Obama's nominee to lead the agency, Julius Genachowski. The public will be able to submit comments to the agency for the next 60 days and then reply comments will be open for another 30 days.

Already telecommunications companies and public interest groups have weighed in at the FCC on things they think should be in the plan. Some carriers want rules on how much large network operators can charge carriers to use parts of their networks. Others say a $7 billion federal phone subsidy program for rural areas should instead be used for broadband.

Free Press, a public interest group, said the last administration dropped the ball on broadband deployment.

"If we want to see any improvement in the availability and adoption of broadband in this country, we need a strong government watchdog and a broadband plan that puts the public interest ahead of Wall Street's whims," said S. Derek Turner, Free Press's research director.

Copps said that, beyond debates on technologies, the FCC would look at coming up with standards for speed and guidelines for what places are most in need of high-speed Internet service. The agency would also focus on demand issues, such as why more than three times as many people in urban areas are not connecting to high-speed Internet service compared with those in rural areas, he said.

The government has included $7.2 billion in stimulus funds for broadband development, mostly geared toward rural areas.

Among the main reasons respondents to a 2008 Pew Internet and American Life Project survey gave for not subscribing to broadband were that service fees and computers were unaffordable and that respondents did not see Internet content as relevant to their lives.

Chris Murray, senior counsel for Consumers Union, a public advocacy group, said the agency's plan will likely look at policies in place and see how they can be reformed to increase the availability of broadband and make service more attractive for consumers.

"The proper goal of the program is filling holes in our national broadband strategy," Murray said, "not creating broadband networks from the ground up."


© 2009 The Washington Post Company

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