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FCC Releases National Broadband Plan

03/16/2010

This morning, the FCC held an Open Meeting to introduce its report Connecting America: The National Broadband Plan (NBP) that will be delivered to Congress today. Calling it "an ambitious agenda for connecting all corners of the nation while transforming the economy and society with the communications network of the future -- robust, affordable Internet," the Commission found that nearly 100 million Americans lack broadband at home today and 14 million Americans do not have access to broadband.

"The National Broadband Plan is a 21st century roadmap to spur economic growth and investment, create jobs, educate our children, protect our citizens and engage in our democracy," said FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski. "It's an action plan, and action is necessary to meet the challenges of global competitiveness, and harness the power of broadband to help address so many vital national issues."

Perhaps as important as what the NBP contains is what it does not contain. "Scanning through its 376 pages, there is but one reference to broadband over power lines (BPL) -- and that is only a passing mention of its classification as an information service," said ARRL Chief Executive Officer David Sumner, K1ZZ. "There is no mention of BPL as a means of implementing the Plan's goals for broadband deployment. In short, the FCC sees no role for BPL in providing broadband Internet connections to more consumers."

Sumner said that this is not surprising, given that the Plan's goals call for speeds that BPL cannot deliver, "but it is still good news for all radiocommunication services -- including the Amateur Radio service -- that have experienced interference from the spectrum pollution that inevitably results from deliberately introducing radio frequency energy on unshielded, unbalanced conductors. This conclusion delivers on Chairman Genachowski's pledge to reintroduce 'fact-based, data-driven' policymaking at the FCC, since the FCC's own data clearly shows that BPL -- with only about 5000 customers nationwide several years after its much-ballyhooed introduction -- has failed in the marketplace. If BPL technology plays any role in fulfilling the NBP, it will be in connection with Smart Grid applications, although it is not specifically mentioned even in that section of the report."

As for what the NBP does contain, the report recommends that the FCC should make 500 megahertz of spectrum newly available for broadband use within the next 10 years, including 300 megahertz between 225 MHz and 3.7 GHz for mobile use within five years. Among the spectrum earmarked in the report is 20 megahertz in the Wireless Communications Service (WCS) bands at 2305-2310, 2310-2320 and 2345-2360 MHz. It remains to be seen whether our secondary allocation of 2305-2310 MHz -- which is the lower of two paired 5-MHz WCS bands called Block A in Part 27 of the FCC Rules -- is targeted. The report also recommends that "[t]he FCC, within the next 10 years, should free up a new, contiguous nationwide band for unlicensed use." Sumner notes that this could have an impact on the Amateur Radio Service.

The Plan's call for action over the next decade includes the following goals and recommendations: 

  • Connect 100 million households to affordable 100-megabits-per-second service, building the world's largest market of high-speed broadband users and ensuring that new jobs and businesses are created in America.
  • Affordable access in every American community to ultra-high-speed broadband of at least 1 gigabit per second at anchor institutions such as schools, hospitals, and military installations so that America is hosting the experiments that produce tomorrow's ideas and industries.
  • Ensure that the United States is leading the world in mobile innovation by making 500 megahertz of spectrum newly available for licensed and unlicensed use.
  • Move our adoption rates from roughly 65 percent to more than 90 percent and make sure that every child in America is digitally literate by the time he or she leaves high school.
  • Bring affordable broadband to rural communities, schools, libraries, and vulnerable populations by transitioning existing Universal Service Fund support from yesterday's analog technologies to tomorrow's digital infrastructure.
  • Promote competition across the broadband ecosystem by ensuring greater transparency, removing barriers to entry, and conducting market-based analysis with quality data on price, speed and availability.
  • Enhance the safety of the American people by providing every first responder with access to a nationwide, wireless, interoperable public safety network. 

A beta release of a "spectrum dashboard" is scheduled to make its appearance tomorrow on the FCC's Web site. According to the report, "This Internet-based software enables user-friendly access to information regarding spectrum bands and licenses, including those that may be suitable for wireless broadband deployment. The initial version includes general information about non-federal use of spectrum bands in the range of 225 MHz to 3.7 GHz as well as more detailed information about bands of particular relevance to broadband."

"In terms of overarching policy issues that have the potential to impact the Amateur Radio Service, the two that seem to me to be of the greatest significance relate to spectrum fees and auctions," Sumner explained. "Also, the report suggests that it may be desirable for the FCC to reverse the migration of digital television broadcasting stations to the UHF bands, which are potentially of more utility for mobile broadband, by addressing the technical issues that make the VHF TV channels more difficult for digital broadcasting. All in all, the NBP is an impressive document that deserves careful study."

The Plan was mandated by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act in February 2009 and produced by an FCC task force. Information for the plan was gathered in 36 public workshops, 9 field hearings and 31 public notices that produced 75,000 pages of public comments. The debate went online with 131 blogposts that triggered 1489 comments, 181 ideas on IdeaScale garnering 6100 votes, 69,500 views on YouTube, as well as and 335,000 Twitter followers. The task force augmented this with independent research and data-gathering. About half of the Plan's recommendations are addressed to the FCC, while the remainder are for Congress, the Executive Branch, state and local government, working closely with the private and nonprofit sectors.

"You can find the Plan online at www.broadband.gov/plan," Sumner noted. "If you spot anything that is particularly deserving of our attention, please share it."



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