updated 09:45 am EST, Sat March 13, 2010
FCC to reveal national broadband plan Tuesday
The FCC's promised national broadband plan should have its formal unveiling on Tuesday, an early scoop of the details claimed on Saturday. Over the next 10 years, the agency would subsidize broadband Internet access for rural areas, creating a combination Internet and cable set-top box, and a previously hinted at plan to relicense as much as 500MHz of spectrum for wireless Internet access. Speed would be a critical focus as well, as the 100 Squared plan woube part of the proposal and promise 100Mbps Internet access to 100 million homes.
Some of the wireless spectrum would go deliberately unlicensed to allow for new technologies to develop, the FCC officials passing information to the NYT said. FCC officials have long been an advocate of using white space frequencies between used parts of the spectrum that could provide long-range Internet access.
More details also hint at education programs to teach computing skills to the inexperienced and that between $12 billion and $16 billion would be set aside for a national wireless public safety network to improve communication between emergency workers.
In encouraging development, the FCC's goal would be to have Internet access replace phones, TV and other conventional technologies as the primary form of communication in the US. Widespread Internet access would make online education and health care commonplace features in the US and would eliminate a gap in skill sets. About a third of the US doesn't have broadband, usually because those asked either can't afford the costs or because incumbent carriers refuse to service their areas, citing deployment costs.
The FCC is expected to face resistance. TV broadcasters have already made their opposition known, although the 500MHz relicensing plan would in many cases compensate those who voluntarily give up slices of their airwaves. Carriers have also been known to staunchly oppose any mandatory rural Internet deployments and are widely accused of using political strategies to avoid these requirements, including alleged misrepresentations of actual coverage and the sponsorship of "astroturf" (fake grassroots) organizations that lobby against these plans.
However, FCC chairman Julius Genachowski has previously hinted that his regulators may not have to either draw on the federal budget or force telecom firms to eat into their profits to achieve its goals. One of his well-known proposals would gradually transition the Universal Service Fund away from its original goal of subsidizing phone lines and towards broadband, which in its current form could allocate as much as $8 billion towards deployments of fiber optics, wide-area wireless and other technologies into these areas. Carriers, including AT&T, have been willing to embrace that strategy and to push for the faster 100Mbps speeds as part of the target.