By Robert G. Scott, Jr. and James M. Smith

On March 16, 2010, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) presented to Congress its long-anticipated National Broadband Plan, as mandated by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (the “Recovery Act”). Thirteen months in the making and weighing in at nearly 400 pages, “Connecting America: The National Broadband Plan” (the “Plan”) has occupied a disproportionate share of the FCC’s time and energy for the last year and, given the breadth and sheer quantity of its analysis and proposals, it will continue to be the single greatest focus of the agency for years to come.

Section 6001 of the Recovery Act, signed into law by President Obama on Feb. 17, 2009, less than a month after his inauguration, mandated the dispersal of $7.2 billion through grant and loan programs to expand broadband deployment to, and adoption by, unserved and underserved areas and vulnerable populations. Those programs—the Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP) administered by the Department of Commerce and the Broadband Initiatives Program (BIP) administered by the Department of Agriculture—are underway, and by law, all of these grants must be awarded by September 30, and the projects completed within three years thereafter.

But Subsection 6001(k) of the Recovery Act also directed the FCC to submit to Congress a National Broadband Plan for the longer term, to pick up where these broadband deployment and other short-term projects leave off “to ensure that all people of the United States have access to broadband capability and [to] establish benchmarks for meeting that goal.”

Congress ordered the FCC to include (1) “analysis of the most effective and efficient mechanisms for ensuring broadband access” by all Americans, (2) “a detailed strategy for achieving affordability of such service and maximum utilization of broadband infrastructure” by the public, (3) “an evaluation of the status of deployment of broadband service, including progress of projects supported by the [BTOP and BIP] grants,” and (4) “a plan for use of broadband infrastructure and services in advancing consumer welfare, civic participation, public safety and homeland security, community development, health care delivery, energy independence and efficiency, education, worker training, private sector investment, entrepreneurial activity, job creation and economic growth, and other national purposes.”

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