FCC unveiling sweeping national broadband plan

Regulatory organization unveils scheme to give Americans increased web access

Published March 15, 2010 4:22PM (EDT)

Communications regulators are unveiling a sweeping proposal to overhaul U.S. broadband policy. Their aim: to bring affordable, high-speed Internet connections to all Americans and make access much faster for people who already have broadband.

Yet it's not certain the Federal Communications Commission can find the funding, corporate support and legal clearance to carry out the entire vision of the plan.

Already, broadcasters oppose one key element of the proposal, which calls for reclaiming some airwaves now in the hands of TV stations and instead selling those frequencies to companies that deliver wireless Internet access. And the FCC hopes to modernize the federal program that subsidizes telephone service in poor and rural areas -- something that Congress and federal regulators have been trying to do for years.

The FCC plan, mandated by last year's stimulus bill and being delivered to Congress on Tuesday, lays out an ambitious vision for wiring the entire country with broadband. It reflects the Obama administration's position that high-speed Internet access is no longer just a luxury but is critical for economic development, education and health care.

"To me, 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 with The Associated Press. Genachowski has made the national broadband plan his top priority, and his legacy at the commission will be linked closely 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.

The plan also calls for every American community to have at least one anchor institution, such as a school, library or hospital, that has ultra-high-speed Internet access -- at least a gigabit per second, or 10 times faster than the 100 megabits per second envisioned for home connections.

In addition, the plan is designed to encourage more people to subscribe to broadband. About two-thirds of U.S. households have high-speed Internet access now. Many people in the other one-third could get broadband but choose not to buy it, either because they think it's too expensive or because they don't see a need for it. The FCC plan calls for increasing adoption rates to more than 90 percent of the population.

By Joelle Tessler

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