• 03.16.10

Why the FCC’s Broadband Plan Will Struggle to Connect with the Public

Today is when the FCC delivers its National Broadband Strategy to Congress. We’ve already had some sneak peeks at the deets, such kitting 100 million households out with super-fast speeds with either a free or lo-cost version, getting techno-illiterates up to speed with their computing skills.


Eric Schmidt posted a rallying cry on Google‘s blog yesterday, comparing the battle for connectivity to that of the Space Race, five decades ago. He called upon the private companies to make a big push in helping the Government achieve its plan to build the fastest wireless network in the world, saying, “ubiquitous broadband connectivity can catapult America into the next level of economic competitiveness, worker productivity and educational opportunity.”


There are six goals in all:

  • Provide 100 million homes with affordable access to download speeds of 100 Mbps, upload speeds of 50 Mbps
  • The U.S. should lead the world in mobile innovation, with the fastest and most extensive wireless networks of any nation.
  • Every American should have affordable access to robust broadband service and the means and skills to subscribe if they so choose.
  • Every American community should have affordable access to at least 1-Gbps broadband service to schools, hospitals and government buildings.
  • Every first responder should have access to a nationwide wireless, interoperable broadband public safety network.
  • To ensure that America leads in the clean energy economy, every American should be able to use broadband to track and manage their real-time energy consumption.

And these are the pitfalls:

Money: The cost has been estimated at $350 billion. Who is going to foot the bill–there’s more chance of the cast of the Jersey Shore being nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize than the 10-year project coming in under budget. The Google CEO calls for the private sector to “carry much of the investment,” but there is a limit to their generosity (and let’s face it, Google would reap major rewards here). Last year’s Digital Broadband report in the U.K. levied a $10-a-year tax on people’s landlines in order to kick-start the investment. Part of the U.S. Government’s investment, one assumes, will have to come from a similar scheme–trouble is, they’re not saying what.

Obsolescence: For the U.S. to lead the world in mobile innovation you’d need South Korea and most of Europe to disappear off the map. But, aside from the innovators, such as Microsoft, Google, etc., it’s the ISPs who will have to be a lot more forward-thinking–aiming, say, to provide 10 Gbps in a decade, and moving toward that. Current plans just seem to be thinking about implementing today’s technology for a date that will already render it obsolete.

Universal availability: For the FCC’s online education and health-care services to work, there needs to be a computer in every household and the means to make the population more computer literate. This means either a nationwide scheme–think OLPC–or distributing old computers to the less wealthy, plus a teaching package. Local schemes in the U.K. were set up but fizzled out due to a lack of funds and a badly-thought-out teaching program called myguide, which left many of the users–not to mention their trainers–frustrated.

The private sector: The government is handing out a massive carrot to broadcasters, asking them to cede spectrum, but offering them a share of the proceeds claimed from a spectrum auction. Set-top boxes are, the government hopes, to become universally usable, instead of making consumers rent a new one if they change service provide. Expect a tussle over that one. The same goes for the phone providers, whose revenue from the Universal Service Fund may be diverted from providing phone lines to rural areas to broadband.

Politicians: Expect to see a bit of a fight in Congress, with Republicans pulling the plug on a scheme they see as too expensive given the U.S.’s current deficit. Rather like Obama’s health-care bill, there may be trouble ahead.


[Via Politico And BBC News And, Image Via Guardian]

About the author

My writing career has taken me all round the houses over the past decade and a half--from grumpy teens and hungover rock bands in the U.K., where I was born, via celebrity interviews, health, tech and fashion in Madrid and Paris, before returning to London, where I now live. For the past five years I've been writing about technology and innovation for U.S.