FCC opens debate on national broadband plan

The FCC voted unanimously to approve a notice of inquiry seeking comment on the creation of a national broadband plan, a first step toward the goal of providing broadband access to all Americans, as mandated by Congress.

Acting Chairman Michael Copps and commissioners Jonathan Adelstein and Robert McDowell voted to approve the move. Copps said the commission's decision signaled it was "beginning to understand that real economic and social progress needs to be fueled by both vigorous private enterprise and enlightened public policy. The missing ingredient until this year has been the enlightened public policy."

"This commission has never, I believe, received a more serious charge than the one to spearhead development of a national broadband plan," Copps continued. "Congress has made it crystal clear that it expects the best thinking and recommendations we can put together by next February. If we do our job well, this will be the most formative--indeed transformative--proceeding ever in the commission's history."

Congress approved $7.2 billion in grants to finance a national broadband stimulus plan when it passed the economic stimulus package in February. Adelstein said "it shouldn't have taken an act of Congress" to make the commission do its job, but that the broadband plan was "long overdue and badly needed." Adelstein also emphasized the role that wireless broadband would play in the plan. Copps said all service providers--fixed line, satellite and wireless--would be needed to make the plan a reality.

McDowell said the broadband plan must be "competitively and technologically neutral" and "must not favor one particular technology or type of provider over another." He added that the plan was "not a one-size-fits-all proposition," and that the commission "must not engage in rule-makings that produce whimsical regulatory arbitrage." McDowell also said that the commission needed to ensure that service providers are able to pay back investors and that the rules do not scare away investors. 

It remains unclear to what extent major service providers such as Verizon and AT&T will participate in the broadband effort. However,  the FCC is aware of concerns that the telecom and wireless industries may have with how the grants will be distributed. Copps said the commission needed to distill comments on the notice of inquiry, from traditional and non-traditional players, and needed to keep its eyes on the prize: "a national broadband plan that is focused, practical and achievable." 

In a statement, Verizon said the FCC should focus its attention on creating rules that encourage private sector investment. "Through this plan, the FCC can take a major step toward ensuring that all Americans have access to broadband networks and have the skills and devices necessary to access the economic and social benefits available through broadband connections," said Susanne Guyer, Verizon's senior vice president of federal regulatory affairs. "We look forward to working with the FCC to achieve this important goal."

For more:
- see this release
- see this article

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