FCC needs Congress’ help on broadband effort
With the public release of its national broadband plan Tuesday, the Federal Communications Commission prepared to start the hard work of getting Congress to help the agency implement roughly 200 recommendations.
“In every era America must confront the challenge of connecting the nation anew,” said Blair Levin, executive director of the FCC’s broadband initiative, a yearlong effort to draft the 356-page plan. “If successful, we will transform our country and, as America does when it transforms itself, transform the world.”
The FCC’s plan calls for a dramatic expansion of affordable, high-speed Internet. A chief goal is to ensure that at least 100 million homes have access to networks that allow data downloads at speeds at least 20 times faster than what most networks now deliver.
The bulk of the recommendation can be enacted by the FCC, such as diverting money from a fund for affordable phone service to rural areas to be used for increasing broadband access.
But Congress would have to act on others, particularly changing rules for federal auctions of federal airwaves to entice some broadcasters to give up their spectrum so the airwaves could be used for wireless Internet access.
FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski said it was imperative to act on the plan’s recommendations.
“The U.S. is lagging globally, certain communities within the U.S. are lagging and the costs of digital exclusion grow higher every day,” he said. “Millions and millions are being left behind. The status quo is not good enough for America.”
While praising the effort put into drafting the plan, the FCC’s two Republicans cautioned against moving too quickly. They said it was important to assess whether government actions would discourage the private investment needed for telecommunications companies to expand their networks.
Those concerns were echoed by some free-market think tanks, which warned of increased government involvement in a market they said has flourished through vibrant competition.
Wayne Crews, vice president for policy at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, warned that “the commission’s plan seeks new realms to rule even as the very need for regulation evaporates.”
But consumer and business groups, along with telecommunications companies, generally praised the plan for pressing for more affordable Internet access even as they said they were still analyzing the specifics.
“This plan seeks to knock down the biggest obstacles to bringing high-speed Internet to more people at a reasonable price,” said Joel Kelsey, a policy analyst for Consumers Union. “This is the first step in a long process.”
The FCC touted its extensive outreach to the public in drafting the plan and use of new media tools; it promised to continue to engage the public as it works to implement the recommendations. The agency, which had been criticized for years for its difficult-to-navigate website, updated its online presence. The plan is available at , which also has a tool to allow consumers to test the speed of their Internet connections.