WASHINGTON – More corners of the country would have high-speed Internet access and existing connections would become much faster under a sweeping proposal to overhaul U.S. broadband policy that is being unveiled today.
The plan from the Federal Communications Commission is meant to guide the government’s strategy on broadband for the next decade and beyond. It reflects the Obama administration’s concern that the nation that invented the Internet is in danger of falling behind the development of online applications in other countries that have faster broadband speeds at lower prices.
Yet it’s not certain the FCC can find the corporate support and legal clearance to carry out the entire plan.
Already, broadcasters oppose one key proposal, which calls for reclaiming some airwaves from TV stations and auctioning those frequencies to companies that deliver wireless Internet access. The FCC also wants to rewrite complicated telecommunications rules in order to pay for broadband using a federal program that now mainly subsidizes telephone service in poor and rural areas. Congress and federal regulators already have been trying to modernize that program for years.
Funding could be a question as well. The FCC does not estimate the total cost of the plan. It insists that its proposals could be paid for by auctioning off slices of the airwaves. But the agency will have to persuade Congress that as much as $20 billion from the airwave auctions be set aside for broadband plans and not get routed to other purposes.
That would come on top of the $7.2 billion for broadband included in the 2009 stimulus bill. The Commerce and Agriculture departments are handing out that money now.
Last year’s stimulus bill also required the FCC to come up with the broadband plan, which is being delivered to Congress today. The plan argues that high-speed Internet access is no longer just a luxury but is critical for economic development, education, health care and other aspects of daily life.
“Broadband is an infrastructure challenge that’s very akin to what we’ve faced in the past with telephones and electricity,” FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski said in an interview. Genachowski has made the broadband plan his top priority, and his legacy at the commission will be linked to the plan’s success or failure.
The proposal sets a goal of connecting 100 million U.S. households to broadband connections of 100 megabits per second – at least 20 times faster than most home connections now – by 2020.