As BlogHer Contributing Editor Virginia Debolt has reported on more than one occasion, the United States is number 15 when it comes to broadband internet access, lagging behind such countries as France and South Korea. Last week, the U.S. Federal Communications Commission unveiled its National Broadband Plan to address that problem. Open internet activists and industry advocates both applaud the plan's goals, but see possible dangers in the way it might be implemented.
As House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi's blog notes, Congress charged the FCC with developing a national broadband plan when it authorized a $7.2 billion investment in expanding broadband networks under last year's economic Recovery Act.
Among other goals, the plan calls for affordable high-speed internet services to be made available to 100 million households by 2015. Other action items include ensuring broadband access for all first responders to emergencies, and improving the speed and reach of mobile networks. The government fund dedicated to expanding universal telephone service would be diverted to support broadband expansion. The plan also calls for the creation of a national digital literacy corps to tutor internet novices. FCC commissioner Mignon Clyburn recently spoke about how that element of the plan would work:
Consumer advocates have been calling for a national broadband plan for some time. In a published statement hailing the FCC plan, CWA President Larry Cohen said:
"Until now, the United States has been the only industrialized country without a plan for high-speed broadband as the engine for job growth, economic development and empowerment of its citizens. The FCC's proposed plan is far-reaching, and it needs to be for the U.S. to reach the global standards.
"The FCC's plan sets an ambitious but achievable goal of reaching 100 million households with 100 megabits per second download capability within 10 years. Probably more important are the FCC's interim benchmarks for next generation deployment: that within five years, 100 million U.S. households will have access to 50 mbps down and 20 up. This pushes investment and innovation forward now."
Laura June at Engadget reports that the major internet service providers, such as Verizon and Comcast, also hailed the plan, but the New York Times reported that providers are worried the plan will affect their costs and profit margins for potential new services. The National Association of Broadcasters is concerned about the possibility that they might be forced to give up some of their broadcast spectrum in order to expand the frequencies available for wireless services. Meanwhile, Bob Garfield and On the Media report that consumer advocates fault the plan for not forcing companies to improve their networks or make spectrum available at cheap rates.
A statement from the consumer advocacy group Freepress.net argued:
To put the market to work for American consumers, the FCC will need to foster competition to drive down prices and drive up speeds. This will require confronting the market power of the cable and telephone giants that control the broadband market. The problems caused by the lack of competition are what led the Congress to order up a National Broadband Plan. While the FCC does take some important steps toward a new framework for competition policy, many of the critical questions are deferred for further review.
Of course, there will be an intense lobbying effort on all sides as this proposal moves forward. Meanwhile, other companies are continuing to improve the speed and robustness of their networks, much to the disadvantages of US consumers and industry.
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