The Battle for Nationwide Broadband Starts in Earnest

Carl Weinschenk

It is surprisingly hard to offer meaningful commentary about the National Broadband Plan announced by the Federal Communications Commission earlier this week.

PC Magazine has a nice rundown of the plan, which covers everything from wireless to wired, online health, education, energy management, first responders, services to the underserved and more.


The sheer size of it all makes it tempting and perhaps appropriate to stand back and say insightful things such as, "Gee, that's ambitious" and "Let's just wait and see what happens." How's that for insight?


Of course, that's a bit facetious. Experts will offer a lot of valuable insight from the social, technical, political and financial points of view. At this point, however, observers need to let the dust settle a bit before dissecting what the administration is contemplating and its chances of success.


It also is important to understand the bigger context. The plan touches on a number of touchstone social issues, including the limits of government responsibility to proactively care for its citizens (the same question that is at the heart of the health care debate), the limits of the government's right to compel industry to do things it deems important and other dissertation-worthy issues. In other words, the national broadband plan is as much about the administration's political philosophy on the role of government as it is about spectrum and access. That, as candidate Obama famously said about something else, is above my pay grade.


He was kidding.


I am not.


It also is important to understand that the statement by the FCC is just a starting point. Nothing is likely to meet the intensity level of the health care debate, including broadband. The health care debate is a proxy fight over the extent of the Obama Administration's power. For this reason, no issue will rise to the same level: Health care, to perhaps an unhealthy level, will determine the success of the next three or seven years of Obama's time in office.


<strong>Broadband policy will run a respectable second, however</strong>. High-speed access is an enabler, like education, rather than an end in itself that spills over into just about everything else. It also is a lightning rod.


Be prepared for a long process. The administration's goals are so broad and their impact potentially so great to dozens of powerful and wealthy constituencies that it will take years to work everything through. In The FCC Strikes a Broadband Blow, on CTO Edge, Wayne Rash writes that this tall order gets even taller because of the economic environment we're working within. What the FCC said this week should be seen as an opening bid. And, as with any opening bid, it contains a mix of things that are fundamental and things that can be bartered away for expediency's sake. The plan as it stands now is a wish list that will be tweaked, if not radically changed, before it gets anywhere close to becoming law.

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