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FCC's broadband plan likely to have something for everyone to gripe about

March 15, 2010 |  2:57 pm

On Tuesday, the Federal Communications Commission will finally present to Congress its much-anticipated National Broadband Plan that it hopes will bring high-speed Internet to the 100 million Americans who can't watch YouTube videos as quickly as the rest of us.

OK, there is a little more to it than that. In a summary of its report, which is making the rounds in D.C. and elsewhere, the FCC says better broadband is "a foundation for economic growth" and even a "better way of life." Furthermore, the agency predicted that improved broadband could lower healthcare costs by "hundreds of billions of dollars in the coming decades."

GENACHOWSKI3 That's pretty impressive. All I know is that ever since I got broadband, I spend even less time reading books and newspapers and have seen my attention span decline faster than the Redskins' chances of ever appearing in a Super Bowl again. 

The FCC notes in the executive summary of its broadband plan that the private sector has done a good job of laying the groundwork -- indeed, over the last decade, the number of Americans with broadband has gone from 8 million to almost 200 million. But it's up to the government to carry the broadband ball those last 10 yards into the end zone.

In particular, the FCC wants to create a new communications platform for police and firefighters so everyone can reach one another better during crisis situations. If the agency can come up with a system that will also take egos out of the equation when it comes to rivals working together, it'll really be on to something.

The FCC's bold ambitions has many in the media and telecommunications industry nervous, particularly broadcasters. The government, the summary says, only has 50 megahertz of spectrum at its fingertips, and apparently it needs a lot more to carry out its plan of building new networks and fulfilling it dream of a broadband line into every home or telephone or some other device we haven't invented yet that will distract us from doing whatever it is we're supposed to be doing.

As part of its plan, the FCC is looking to broadcasters to give back some spectrum -- approximately 120 megahertz already assigned to local TV stations across the nation -- for new mobile technologies. Broadcasters, who gave back 108 megahertz during the transition from analog to digital television, are not eager to part with any more.

"We were pleased by initial indications from FCC members that any spectrum reallocation would be voluntary, and were therefore prepared to move forward in a constructive fashion on that basis," the National Assn. of Broadcasters said. "However, we are concerned by reports today that suggest many aspects of the plan may in fact not be as voluntary as originally promised." In other words, go take some other industry's spectrum; we have plans for ours.

Cable giant Comcast Corp., which is also the nation's largest broadband provider, is a little more restrained than the broadcasters group. Of course, that may change once Comcast finishes its deal to acquire NBC Universal and becomes a broadcaster itself.

In a blog post on the company's website, Comcast Senior Vice President Joe Waz said the FCC needs to "maintain the light-touch regulatory environment essential to promoting investment." 

Warning to Waz: Putting "light touch" and a government agency in the same sentence might be an oxymoron.

-- Joe Flint

Photo: FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski. Credit: Joshua Roberts / Bloomberg

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