National Broadband Plan: Universal access by 2020

Broadband internet router

The National Broadband Plan hopes to provide universal broadband access by 2020. Image from Flickr.

It wasn’t long ago that connecting to the internet meant dialing into your Internet Service Provider and listening to the hissing and pops of your internet connecting. Since then, though, broadband internet has become the norm — for most. The cost (which practically requires installment loans), a lack of “digital literacy” and concerns about privacy all hamper access. Today’s National Broadband Plan report from the FCC takes the general federal goal of expanding internet access and breaks it down into a Broadband Plan that should increase both the speed and availability of internet access for all residents of the United States.

National Broadband Plan addresses connectivity

As reported by PBS News Hour (video below), the U.S. ranks 15th in the nation in broadband access. About one-third of Americans have chosen to not be connected to a broadband internet connection, while another 4 percent of the population does not have the option of connecting to broadband internet because it is not available in their area. Some areas of the nation that are connected to broadband internet have relatively slow connections. In the United States, 10 megabits per second is considered a relatively fast connection. In other countries, such as South Korea, one gigabit (1024 megabit) per second connections are common.

The cost of broadband is another concern, as most Americans who choose not to connect to broadband at home do so because they cannot or do not want to pay the $50 a month or higher bill, choosing instead to focus on issues like mortgage loan restructuring. Finally, the availability and health of wireless internet networks in America is relatively low, compared to other countries. With the internet being increasingly accessed from mobile devices, the high cost and low coverage of powerful wireless internet is seen to hamper economic development.

The Goals of the National Broadband Plan

The six goals of the National Broadband Plan, as stated on the FCC’s broadband.gov1 web site, are as follows:

  • Goal 1: At least 100 million U.S. homes should have affordable access to actual download speeds of at least 100 megabits per second and actual upload speeds of at least 50 megabits per second.
  • Goal 2: The United States should lead the world in mobile innovation, with the fastest and most extensive wireless networks of any nation.
  • Goal 3: Every American should have affordable access to robust broadband service and the means and skills to subscribe if they so choose.
  • Goal 4: Every community should have affordable access to at least 1 Gbps broadband service to anchor institutions such as schools, hospitals and government buildings.
  • Goal 5: To ensure the safety of Americans, every first responder should have access to a nationwide public safety wireless network.
  • Goal 6: To ensure that America leads in the clean energy economy, every American should be able to use broadband to track and manage their real-time energy consumption.

A large portion of the FCC’s National Broadband Plan is based on the Brookings Institution report2 that estimates that expanding broadband access to 90 percent (the National Broadband Plan goal) would create an additional $2,400 a year of income for each person in the country.

Funding the National Broadband Plan

The goals of the National Broadband Plan are very extensive – but the FCC lays out a plan of how it hopes to meet these goals in just 10 years. First, the FCC proposes auctioning off 500MHz of wireless spectrum within 10 years – that’s the airwave licenses that TV, radio, phone and wireless carriers share. This would have the dual effect of funding many of the National Broadband Plan proposals while also opening up airwaves for high-speed wireless internet. As Wireless Week3 reports, this airspace for wireless internet would be auctioned off with the condition that low-cost or free broadband access be offered to low-income subscribers.

Secondarily, as CNet News4 reported, the National Broadband Plan proposes redirecting almost $8 billion from the Universal Service Fund – a fund that has used a surcharge on phone bills to subsidize telephone access in rural areas. This money would instead go to subsidize rural access to high-speed internet access.

National Broadband Plan suggests partnering with private industry

Far from taking over broadband internet and internet access, the National Broadband plan instead calls for partnering with private industry. By offering tax incentives, subsidies, and expanded wireless network airspace, the government would encourage private providers to upgrade networks. However, the National Broadband Plan does also call for a $12 billion to $16 billion investment over 10 years from the government — to be spent mostly on building a national public safety wireless network and helping “anchor institutions” get gigabit connections.

Reactions to the National Broadband Plan

Not everyone is happy about the prospect of bringing nearly universal access to high-speed internet access with the National Broadband Plan. Computerworld5 asked for reactions from a wide variety of telecommunications industry leaders. Some of those reactions included:

Rey Ramsey, president and CEO of trade group TechNet: “This roadmap for broadband can truly represent the ‘north star’ for future American innovation leadership. … Simply put, wider adoption of broadband is one of the best fiscal stimulus policies we can make as a nation as new industries, companies and jobs are created as a result.”

“We believe in the transformative potential of widespread, high-quality, affordable broadband,” said Intel President and CEO Paul Otellini. “To lead in competitiveness, innovation and job creation in the 21st century, our country must plan ahead. This means investing in next-generation wireless and wireline infrastructure, increasing home broadband adoption, and enabling commercial spectrum to flow to uses that the market values most.”

“The plan takes a critical first step toward making universal broadband a reality for every American, by recognizing the integral role of USF reform in ensuring a viable broadband infrastructure for the future,” said NTCA CEO Michael Brunner. “But to truly achieve the goal of universal broadband, the plan must accurately account for all of the costs associated with providing high-quality, affordable broadband to rural and remote areas throughout the country. Put simply, the plan fails to do this right now.”

See the PBS Report on the National Broadband Plan

  1. FCC’s
  2. Brookings Institution report
  3. Wireless Week
  4. CNet News
  5. Computerworld