FCC’s Genachowski Unveils Plan for Universal Broadband Coverage

In speech remarks posted on the FCC website, FCC chairman Julius Genachowski announced a plan to bring broadband and mobile broadband access to the entire country. Big talk of that nature is nothing new, but the plan portends to achieve this goal by the end of the decade.

Genachowski expects the number of people without broadband--18 million Americans, in his estimation--will be cut in half in five years, with the rest receiving coverage by 2020.

In order to achieve this lofty goal, Genachowski said that the Universal Service Fund and Intercarrier Compensation System (which he called “complex” and “broken”) must be reformed. Those reforms are being circulated to the appropriate parties now and will be voted on at the end of the month. Assuming it passes, buildout is scheduled to begin in 2012.

Key elements of the plan include:

-Transitioning the USF to a Connect America Fund, which will ensure universal availability of broadband and mobile broadband as well as ongoing support
-Restraining the budget so it doesn’t get out of hand
-Making the process for obtaining support competitive between providers and eventually transitioning to a “fully competitive system for distributing Connect America Fund dollars”
-Using satellite and unlicensed wireless spectrum to make broadband more affordable
-Reforming and modernizing the intercarrier compensation system
-Keeping access rates in check

“It's not just a theory. It's a fact. Broadband has gone from being a luxury to a necessity for full participation in our economy and society,” said Genachowski (pictured at left) in the post. He likened the broadband buildout to previous efforts to bring railroads, telephone service, and electricity to rural areas in generations past.

We’d have to agree with him on the above; access to the same infrastructure as everyone else is key to maintaining a level playing field. The (rich part of the) world is leaping ahead thanks to the Internet; education, medicine, business, EMS, and simple person-to-person communication are all experiencing exciting developments. Rural populations out of the loop will suffer.

Now, as a rule, politicians are brilliant at making speeches and terrible at follow-through, but this plan is good news. In a weird way, it sounds like this government intervention in the broadband space will actually simplify a lot of the previous government intervention in previous telecommunications ventures, closing loopholes, re-incentivizing certain aspects for businesses, and so on. Yes, it’s a reason for optimism; no, we don’t expect this plan to actually meet all of its goals or stay under budget. However, even if these measures only partially succeed, it will be a boon to many who are currently without broadband Internet.

One final note: On the day after an industry legend sadly passed away too young, Genachowski posted his remarks on the FCC website via an iPad and took the opportunity to mention Steve Jobs’ legacy and use his vision as inspiration for this endeavor:

“Steve Jobs is being lauded today as a visionary, and of course that's right. Here's one quote ‘The most compelling reason for most people to buy a computer for the home will be to link it to a nationwide communications network. We're just in the beginning stages of what will be a truly remarkable breakthrough for most people as remarkable as the telephone.’ That's Steve Jobs, twenty five year[s] ago, in 1985.”
Tags:  Broadband, FCC