FCC Pushes For Universally Accessible Nationwide Wireless

Earlier this week we covered the news that nearly 80 percent of all Internet users worldwide feel that Internet access is a right. In a week, the FCC will present its specific plan for bringing broadband Internet to the estimated 35 percent of Americans who currently either don't have or can't get such service. A new brief discussing the organizations general thoughts is now available and if it's anything to go by, certain provisions the FCC wants to recommend will face stiff opposition from telecommunication companies.

FCC chairman Julius Genachowski believes it's essential to extend universal broadband across the US. In order to ensure long term American competitiveness and prosperity, we must not leave one-third of the nation behind," Genachowski said. "The National Broadband Plan provides a vision for federal, state and local leadership and partnerships with the private and nonprofit communities that will bridge the digital divide and transform America into a nation where broadband expands opportunities for all."

The FCC will recommend improving digital literacy for all Americans by publicly funding a "Digital Library Corps" to conduct skill training and outreach in communities with low broadband adoption rates. In addition, it wants to expand existing training and opportunities in the library system and create an online "skill" portfolio that trains students and adults in unspecified concepts (think online college courses, we suppose). None of these proposals are particularly controversial; it's the FCC's ideas for making broadband affordable that will likely come under fire.

The Federal Communications Commission will recommend expanding existing FCC programs that already help indigent residents pay for telephone service and plans to advocate for the creation of a "free or very low cost wireless broadband service." Said broadband service would use a specific band of the spectrum set aside for this purpose. It's assumed that the current owners of this space would 'voluntarily' make it available for use through some sort of partnership with the US government but the details of how to make this happen are glossed over.

Crazy Idea or Business As Usual

There's a certain group of people who will instinctively dismiss the idea that broadband is a "right" that should ever be available for free or at heavily subsidized cost but there's a certain degree of historical precedent. Once upon the 1920s radio was a high-end luxury, a brand new technology and curiosity that only the wealthiest could afford. By 1931 40 percent of US households owned a radio, by 1939, 80 percent of them did. Television adoption followed a similar curve. RCA demonstrated the TV publicly at the World's Fair in 1939. 30 years later, virtually every American family owned a TV (though not all of them were color).

Internet adoption has grown the same way and the financial barriers to entry have dropped even faster than was the case with TV or radio. Granted, we don't speak of television as a right, but the government's distribution of digital set-top box coupons this past summer is just one example of how television is no longer considered a luxury but a basic necessity. Even if Congress doesn't jump on the FCC's current set of recommendations the question of broad government sponsorship and the creation of an overarching system may be less an "if" and more a "when."

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