FCC's broadband plan: $15.5 billion for deployment

The agency's plan also calls for a nationwide free wireless broadband service

By , IDG News Service |  Mobile & Wireless

The U.S. Federal Communications Commission will recommend the deployment of a nationwide free or low-cost wireless broadband network, and it will pour at least US$15.5 billion into broadband deployment across the country over the next 10 years under a national broadband plan to be officially released Tuesday.

The FCC's national broadband plan, released to reporters Monday, sets a goal of 1G bps (bits per second) service to anchor institutions such as hospitals, schools and government buildings in every U.S. community by 2020 and "affordable" 100M bps service available to 100 million U.S. homes during the same time frame.

The first comprehensive plan for broadband in the U.S. also calls on Congress to fund a nationwide wireless broadband network for emergency response agencies, at a cost of $12 billion to $16 billion, and it seeks to free up 500MHz of wireless spectrum for broadband in the next decade.

“The National Broadband Plan is a 21st century road map to spur economic growth and investment, create jobs, educate our children, protect our citizens, and engage in our democracy,” FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski said in a statement. “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.”

For years, people in the U.S. tech industry have called on the U.S. government to create a national broadband plan. Although there is argument about the validity of the numbers, critics of former President George Bush's administration say that the U.S. ranks behind many other industrialized nations in broadband adoption, speed and price.

The plan outlines several ways for the U.S. to increase broadband speeds and deployment, although it doesn't specifically address how to get to 100M bps for most of the U.S. The plan seeks to lower the cost of deploying broadband by reforming right-of-way rules, and it calls on the FCC to revamp wholesale telecom rates and so-called special access rates paid to large telecom carriers for large-pipe connections between buildings and central switching facilities.

The FCC will also establish broadband performance measurement standards and will look at ways to require broadband providers to disclose performance data, according to the plan.

To help broadband deployment, the FCC would transition the high-cost program in the Universal Service Fund (USF), which now largely subsidizes traditional telephone service, into a broadband fund. The $4.6-billion-a-year program would transition into a new Connect America Fund over 10 years, with the FCC expecting to put $15.5 billion into broadband deployment over the next decade. To qualify for funding, broadband providers would have to provide service of at least 4M bps.

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