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FCC's plan for broadband Internet access falls short

To ease the deployment of both wired and wireless access, the FCC plan recommends fine-tuning dozens of regulations and laws governing such details as how Internet providers can set up equipment on telephone poles and the "special access" rates large carriers charge competitors for upstream links.

The FCC also proposes to collect more data about the price, performance and coverage of Internet services. Instead of only knowing that a company advertises downloads of "up to" whatever speed, you could check its average downloads, uploads and uptime. This research would also determine whether the plan's most ambitious goal -- 100 million bits-per-second access in 100 million homes by 2020 -- can be met.

The plan concludes with a series of chapters outlining how universal broadband will serve such "national purposes" as health care information technology, an energy-efficient "smart grid" for electricity and open access to the workings of government.

But even after all these changes, many requiring congressional action, many people will probably shop from the same cast of characters and pay about the same as today. Our wired services may be faster, and we may have more wireless choices, but we won't find the United States transformed into a land of cheap, fast bandwidth like South Korea.

That's the unavoidable result of a plan that doesn't rewrite history and eschews such ambitious but politically unfeasible measures as "open access" rules through which other countries require incumbent carriers to rent lines to competitors at wholesale rates. In that sense, it's not too different from the administration's health-care plan-- another middle-of-the-road measure that keeps much of the current market intact.

So will we have a grown-up debate about the ways and means of building out broadband, or are we in for a round of uninformed yammering about FCC disconnection panels?

Living with technology, or trying to?

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