Wednesday, April 14, 2010

FCC National Broadband Plan lacks sense of urgency

Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) today gave voice to my own concern that the Federal Communications Commission's National Broadband Plan mandated by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 is more of a wish list than an action plan.

Particularly considering that according to an FCC estimate released when the plan was unveiled last month, 7 million U.S. homes are offline because they are located outside cable company footprints or unable to subscribe to DSL due to distance limitations. Last October, the Yankee Group estimated about 12 percent of U.S. households, including those in some major metropolitan areas, have no access to broadband service.

That's a big infrastructure problem reflecting the fact that the United States is easily a decade behind where it should be considering the rapid growth of the Internet and next generation, Internet-protocol based telecommunications.

Rockefeller's message to the FCC is a problem of this magnitude requires a sense of urgency to bridge the digital divide. I agree with him. As a representative of a state with sizable rural areas, Rockefeller wants the FCC to focus its plan on rural America where IP-based telecom infrastructure is the weakest and least developed.

I would include many metro areas as well, particularly neighborhoods where housing density and topography don't allow legacy wireline cable and telcos to profitably build out their systems. As I have stated repeatedly, the FCC's plan should help alternative entities such as nonprofit coops start up to rapidly construct this critical infrastructure where the legacy providers cannot afford to do so.

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