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FCC Delivers National Broadband Plan: All Eyes on Congress

What Provisions Will Congress Act on?


FCC Delivers National Broadband Plan: All Eyes on Congress

Image © Getty Images

From the Plan:
"The National Broadband Plan lays out a bold roadmap to America's future. These initiatives will stimulate economic growth, spur job creation, and boost our capabilities in education, healthcare, homeland security and more."

As mandated by the broadband provisions contained the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) of 2009, the FCC delivered the National Broadband Plan to Congress in March 2010. The national strategy for broadband deployment, and the use of broadband technology for every national initiative was a framework and outline for further federal action. About half of the Plan's recommendations are for FCC action, while the remainders are for Congress, the Executive Branch, state and local government, working closely with the private and nonprofit sectors. Some of the next steps include Congressional action, in the form of legislation. Other strategies include FCC rulemaking or recommendations for the use of broadband on the local level. However, even these recommendations will require federal action, due to the state of the economy, and the fact that many localities are cash-strapped.

The plan itself is over 376 pages, containing approximately 200 proposed rules, funding recommendations, and policy proposals. The plan is intended to be a living document, and will undoubtedly be amended as legislation is enacted, and rules are implemented. Some goals have been described as overly ambitious; others are described are not going far enough. Regardless of the criticism, no one can argue that the FCC delivered a comprehensive plan to close the digital divide, leverage broadband technology to advance national priorities, and position the nation to catch up on global broadband penetration rates. (The US is currently in 15th place)

In 2008, the Bush Administration proposed, and Congress passed the "Broadband Data Improvement Act." Essentially this was the same program, as what was enacted as part of the broadband provisions of the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act of 2009. The big difference was that the ARRA bill provided $350M in funding to accomplish many of the same goals. Although, the $7.2B ($302M later rescinded) allocated to broadband is described as a "down-payment" on broadband investment, even by the President himself, there is no doubt that the ARRA bill stimulated not only investment in broadband, it essentially energized the broadband community, and shined a spotlight on broadband issues such as mapping, adoption rates, and the digital divide.

Congress recessed this year with little action on broadband issues, probably in no small part due to the upcoming elections and the political sensitivity of many issues to be resolved. In addition, Congress just allocated $7.2B for a variety of broadband investments. With some Members of Congress questioning the economic benefits of the stimulus bill, additional funding for broadband may be challenging.

These are the major issues which Congress will most likely focus on when they return:

Net Neutrality

Congress will probably revisit the Net Neutrality issue. Fair or not, this has become a "consumer versus large corporations looking for higher profits" issue. This makes it a popular cause for swift Congressional action. However, there is much more involved, and long term policy implications. Congress is reportedly moving forward on legislation that would reconcile the net neutrality debate after the issue caused the FCC and Comcast to go to court to try to resolve the issue. Ultimately, the court case made the issue even more complicated.

Read this article to understand what Net Neutrality is all about.

An argument in support of net neutrality.

An argument against net neutrality.

Amending the Telecommunications Act of 1996 – FCC regulation of the Internet

Another issue that has been getting a lot of attention lately because of the Comcast verdict earlier this year, is establishing the FCC’s authority to regulate the Internet. FCC Commissioner Julius Genachowski is proposing a plan dubbed “The Third Way.” This plan grants limited control to the FCC over broadband providers. It does not authorize the FCC to regulate Internet content or set internet prices. Basically, only the transmission component of broadband Internet service would be redefined as a telecommunications service. This regulatory-lite approach provides a “solid legal basis,” for the FCC to move toward their objective of net neutrality, said Mr. Genachowski.

One Republican Congressman wants to slow down any FCC regulation efforts entirely. A bill named the "Internet Protection, Investment and Innovation Act,” would require the FCC to present an extensive cost-benefit analysis to Congress before imposing any regulations outlined in the Title II Act. When Congress returns debate on this issue will be sure to continue. Although the Comcast case and the Net Neutrality issue sparked the reclassification issue, there are many far reaching consequences to taking this action.

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