FCC National Broadband Plan outlines sweeping reform in funding, infrastructure access, competition policies

Among the long-term goals in the plan, the FCC calls for at least 100 million homes with broadband connections of 100 Mbps downstream and at least 50 Mbps upstream, and 1-Gbps service to schools, hospitals, and other anchor institutions.

By Contributing Editor Stephen Hardy, Lightwave -- The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is expected to deliver to Congress today its National Broadband Plan. While the document is expected to weigh in at 350 pages or more, an executive summary released yesterday provides an overview of its contents.

Recommendations will include the establishment of competition policies, easier access to useful government-owned infrastructure, and new funding mechanisms. Among the long-term goals in the plan, the FCC will call for at least 100 million homes with broadband connections of 100 Mbps downstream and at least 50 Mbps upstream and 1-Gbps service to schools, hospitals, and other anchor institutions.

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Today's date is one day earlier than the extended deadline the FCC requested earlier this year.

Calling broadband “the great infrastructure challenge of the early 21st century,” the executive summary says there are four ways government can influence broadband deployment:

-- Design policies to ensure “robust” competition
-- Ensure efficient allocation and management of government-owned and –controlled assets
-- Reform of current universal service mechanisms to support broadband deployment in high-cost areas
-- Reform laws, policies, standards, and incentives to maximize the benefits of broadband to anchor institutions.

The summary then details recommendations under each of these four broad themes. Within the discussion of competition policies, the FCC will call for the development of disclosure requirements for broadband service providers and a “comprehensive” review of wholesale competition rules. It will ask for rule changes to ensure “a competitive and innovative video set-top box market” as well as a way to “clarify” what it considers a Congressional mandate to allow state and local entities to provide broadband services.

In both the competition and infrastructure sections, the FCC will lay out a plan for freeing up additional wireless spectrum for broadband use. The auction of such spectrum would offset the costs of implementing the plan’s recommendations, the FCC asserts.

The plan will also call for the creation of several broadband funding mechanisms. A Connect America Fund (CAF) would support the provision of affordable broadband voice and data access with actual download speeds of at least 4 Mbps. The CAF would consist of up to $15.5 billion shifted from the Universal Service Fund over the next decade. The FCC notes Congress could speed this process by kicking in “a few billion dollars per year over two to three years,” in the words of the summary.

Meanwhile, a Mobility Fund would target the deployment of 3G wireless. In addition, the FCC will call for the reform of intercarrier compensation, which would see the elimination of per-minute charges over the next 10 years and the enabling of “adequate cost recovery” through the CAF.

The plan will also list six long-term goals for the next decade. The FCC had previously discussed its desire for 100 Mbps connections to 100 million homes (see "FCC Chairman Genachowski cites 100-Mbps broadband service as part of National Broadband Plan"). The 1 Gbps to anchor institutions is a newly announced goal, although the emphasis on connections to anchor institutions in successful broadband stimulus proposals dovetails with this desire. Other goals include:

-- That the United States should “lead the world in mobile innovation” and create the fastest and most extensive network in the world
-- Every American should have affordable access to broadband services and the means and skills to subscribe to them
-- First responders should have access to a nationwide wireless broadband pubic safety network
-- That energy users should be able to use broadband connections to track and manager their real-time energy consumption.

Download a copy of the executive summary

SOURCE: Lightwave

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