The FCC Strikes a Broadband Blow

Wayne Rash

If there was any question about why Cisco's CRS-3 router that I mentioned last week was so important, that question was answered this week when the Federal Communications Commission released its National Broadband Plan to Congress on Monday. The plan, along with material explaining it, can be found here. In brief, the plan, which was mandated by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act in February 2009, outlines an ambitious effort to bring true broadband communications to 90 percent of the U.S. population.

The complex plan proposes a number of things that will be critical to commerce. They include 100 megabit per second connections to 100 million U.S. households; gigabit connections to public facilities including schools, libraries and local governments; use of currently unused or underused spectrum; taking advantage of the 'white space' in the television broadcasting spectrum; and providing free wireless Internet access to people who otherwise can't afford an online connection.

And it doesn't stop there. The FCC's plan includes an effort to raise the adoption level of broadband by children, bring broadband to rural communities, promote competition and enhance public safety. Whew. That's a pretty tall order.

An even taller order is getting something through Congress that makes sense, and actually moves broadband access forward. First of all, the plan is expensive and it's being presented during a time of national economic difficulty. Now, I realize that the idea behind the Recovery and Reinvestment Act is to spend money in times like these so that the wealth can be spread and people can get good, high-paying, technology jobs. But remember, you're asking Congress to make the connection between growing the economy on one hand, and spending on a big government program during an election year on the other.

Unless your Congressman happens to represent a district that makes telecom equipment or has a lot of content providers, this is going to be a hard sell. It's an even harder sell because the FCC's plan doesn't provide any freebies to the giant carriers and cable companies.

Now, look at the dollars that AT&T, Comcast and their buddies can throw around during an election, versus what the people who actually need the broadband can throw around. Is there any doubt how this proposal will fare in Congress?

The best you can hope for is that the battle for the federal dollar isn't too protracted, and that it's not totally lopsided in favor of the big companies. If we're lucky, whatever emerges from Congress and from the tech companies will actually manage to deliver broadband we can use in a time frame in which we can use it. But don't hold your breath for that to happen, and don't place any big bets on it, either. This probably explains why Cisco limited its product selection to one very fast router for now. There are places that product can be used that don't depend on Congress approving the funding.

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