As the 112th Congress continues their legislative agenda for 2011, there are several important broadband issues to be debated. The Obama administration continues to emphasize broadband and access to the Internet as important national initiatives. This list contains the top five issues sure to be discussed during this Congressional session.
1. Connect America Initiative
How will President Obama achieve his goal to connect 98% of the nation to broadband? It started with the FCC's National Broadband Plan in 2009. The FCC proposed to connect 100 million people by 2020 - the 100 squared initiative. Then President Obama said he wanted 98% of the population within the next 5 years. The details of the Connect America initiative are still to be announced, but the stated goals are certainly very aggressive targets.
Can broadband providers restrict some traffic from flowing on their networks – or must all traffic be created equally?
Where will funding come from to build an estimated $11.5 billion broadband interoperable network? President Obama just announced support for use of the D Block for public safety. Now what?
Broadband for public safety has been gaining momentum since the FCC granted 700 MHz waivers to 21 jurisdictions to begin deployment of an interoperable public safety broadband network. The waiver approval enables only enables these jurisdictions to use the 700MHz frequency for building and using an interoperable network.
There are several bills before Congress, which will need to be debated before national policy can be made. Most involve use of the D Block for public safety. The national broadband plan proposes an auction of the D block to commercial providers, with the proceeds used to pay for the national public safety network. The First Responders Act of 2009 and the Rockefeller bill are the ones most likely to be enacted.
The NTIA just announced a plan to free up 115 megahertz (MHz) of spectrum for broadband, but much more will be needed to meet President Obama's goal of freeing up 500 MHz over the next 10 years.
Should the Universal Service Fund be used to subsidize Internet service for people who cannot afford to pay? One of the major proposals in the National Broadband Plan is to revamp the formulas in the FCC’s Universal Service Fund, which now largely subsidizes traditional telephone service in rural areas. The national broadband plan would phase out the telephone subsidies in the $4.6 billion-a-year program over 10 years and put the money into a new broadband deployment program. The FCC’s plan would take $15.5 billion from the USF high-cost program and put it into broadband deployment over the next decade, and FCC officials said they believe they can revamp USF without approval from Congress.