FCC pushing ahead with broadband plan despite ruling

The FCC said it is moving ahead on more than 60 rulemakings and other proceedings this year to advance the goals of its national broadband plan. This action comes just days after a federal court ruling questioned the agency's authority to regulate broadband.

Despite the ruling--which said the FCC overstepped its statutory authority when it cited Comcast in 2008 for preventing users from accessing peer-to-peer file sharing services--the commission laid out what it termed its "broadband action agenda" for the rest of the year.

"The court decision earlier this week does not change our broadband policy goals, or the ultimate authority of the FCC to act to achieve those goals," FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski said in a statement. "The court did not question the FCC's goals; it merely invalidated one technical, legal mechanism for broadband policy chosen by prior commissions."

As part of the push, the agency said it will begin immediately working toward increasing spectrum for mobile broadband use--which wireless industry executives have repeatedly called for. The plan aims to free up 500 MHz of spectrum over the next 10 years, with 300 MHz of that opened up in the next five years. According to the FCC's new timeline:

  • In the second quarter it will vote on an order revising technical rules so that it can move toward freeing up 20 MHz of spectrum in the 2.3 GHz Wireless Communications Service band. 
  • In the second or third quarter, the FCC will vote on a notice of proposed rulemaking for an auction of the D Block of the 700 MHz band, which will take place in the first half of next year.
  • In the third quarter, it will vote on a notice of proposed rulemaking for rules to accelerate terrestrial broadband deployment in up to 90 MHz of Mobile Satellite Spectrum.
  • By Oct. 1, the FCC wants to conclude a process with the National Telecommunications and Information Administration to find out if a portion of the 1.7 GHz band currently set aside for the federal government can be paired with 20 MHz of spectrum in the AWS-3 band. When coupled with AWS-2 spectrum, this would free up 60 MHz. If the FCC finds that this can't be done, it will adopt final rules in the fourth quarter to auction AWS-3 spectrum on a stand-alone basis in the second quarter of next year. 
  • And, addressing perhaps the most contentious part of the broadband plan, in the third quarter it will vote on a notice of proposed rulemaking that seeks comment on proposals to increase spectrum efficiency and innovation for broadcast spectrum. The FCC wants to set up auctions where broadcasters voluntarily give up their spectrum in exchange for a portion of auction proceeds. The effort is designed to allocate up to 120 MHz of spectrum for mobile broadband--but many broadcasters have expressed strong opposition to the plan thus far.   

Although the FCC is moving forward in the wake of the court's ruling, the agency's general counsel, Austin Schlick, acknowledged the decision may affect a number of key recommendations, including accelerating broadband access and adoption in rural parts of the country, connecting underserved communities, cybersecurity and consumer protection, including transparency and disclosure.

For more:
- see this FCC post
- see this Reuters article
- see this Bloomberg article

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