FCC Issues Notice and Solicitation of Comments for "National Broadband Plan"
Taking the first steps in the development of a “national broadband plan” the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) on Wednesday, April 8, 2009, issued a Notice of Inquiry (NOI) soliciting comments on a wide range of issues surrounding the development of a policy framework designed to increase broadband deployment and adoption throughout the country.
Mandated by the recently enacted American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, which also set aside over $7 billion for broadband loans and grants to be administered by the Departments of Commerce and Agriculture, the FCC must issue its national broadband plan to Congress no later than February, 2010. (Please see our recent advisories: "Broadband Provisions of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act" and "Federal Agencies Begin Process of Implementing Broadband Stimulus Program.") Interested parties may file comments with the FCC by June 8, 2009, and reply comments by July 7, 2009.
The scope of issues and questions raised in the NOI are quite broad, and focus on issues of both “supply” (deployment) and “demand” (adoption, affordability, etc.). Among the questions raised by the FCC are those fundamental policy issues that have been debated for years, including:
- The need, or desire, for “open” network platforms and/or nondiscrimination obligations;
- The role of Universal Service funding programs in the promotion of broadband deployment;
- The need to reform spectrum access, allocation, assignment and management policies; and
- The role of competition between, and across, different technology platforms in this national broadband policy.
In addition, the NOI seeks to resolve the as yet undecided question of how to properly define “broadband” itself, how to set benchmarks for measuring increased deployment and access to such capabilities, and whether new data metrics are necessary.
Notably, the FCC identifies a number of potential policy goals under the plan, including several relatively novel proposals such as the promotion of energy independence and efficiency, enhanced delivery of advanced health care services, education, worker training, and improved public safety and homeland security.
Approved by all three current FCC Commissioners, the NOI now formally frames the broadband policy debate in Washington, D.C. Indeed, the accompanying comments of each Commissioner previewed several of the most contentious issues. Acting Chairman Copps, for example, stated that “[e]nsuring broadband openness, avoiding invasions of peoples’ privacy, and ensuring cyber security” are three “challenges” the FCC will face in developing this national broadband plan. Commissioner McDowell, the agency’s only Republican member, remarked that the plan must include certain “fundamental concepts,” such as technology neutrality, proper incentives for private capital investment, and continued expansion of the use of all “available spectrum.”
As noted above, interested parties may file comments with the FCC by June 8, 2009, and reply comments by July 7, 2009. Davis Wright Tremaine counsels communications service providers on many aspects of their broadband services, including the development of strategic policy and advocacy positions. If you wish to file comments with the FCC please contact the author or contacts listed above, or your Davis Wright Tremaine attorney.