The story says that the schedule is backed to February 17, when the FCC must send a National Broadband Plan to Congress. The last official day for public comments is July 21 -- a scant two weeks from now -- though it is likely that more will be read beyond that date. In parallel, the departments of Commerce and Agriculture will be accepting applications on their part of the stimulus package from July 14 to August 14. It's a confusing and apparently inefficient scenario.
The next set of dates set out in the story is August 10 to September 2, when meetings on a variety of subjects will be held. In December, the commissioners-there are three now, with two more to be added-will state their opinions. Ovum offers a good roundup of what the rules are and what the consultants expect to see happen.
It's going to be fascinating to watch this all play out. There are a lot of entrenched interests-cable operators and telcos, mostly -- that want to see the plans evolve in a way that may not coincide with what's best for the folks in rural and other undeserved areas that the stimulus plan is aimed to help. Who wins those small battles is vital.
Late last year, municipal consultant Craig Settles told me that the acid test for a national broadband plan would be whether local officials, the people who know best about conditions in their back yards, gain control and can institute projects that really help.
Settles put it this way:
In order to make a national strategy work, it has to be executed at the local level. It's not the pipe that stimulates the economy, it's a series of programs around the pipe. It's the applications and what you do with the network, not the network itself. If you take a financially depressed rural area and drop in a network with no programs on workforce training or how to bring new business in - programs around the network - it won't be as successful as people think it will be.
The takeaway is that technology into a community or region without careful consideration of why it is being done and what will happen once the gear is operational is a feel-good move that may not pay real dividends in the lives of people it is meant to help. That trap must be avoided. By trying to simultaneously help the economy and citizens without adequate broadband connectivity, the administration is trying, from the conceptual level, to help save two birds with one stone. Whether that intention actually is enfranchised in the final rules and regulations -- or whether political and corporate-led inertia wins out in the end -- will be decided, once and for all, very soon.