Did you know the US one of the only "developed" countries in world - perhaps the only country - with no national high-speed internet access? The FCC is out to change that.

The "Plan"

As of right now, only about 200 million homes in the US have high-speed or "broadband" Internet access at home. There are about 100 million homes with no broadband at all. And those with broadband have an average internet connection of about 4 Mbps (that's MegaBits Per Second - a measurement of how much information flows through your computer and how fast).

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) wants to change all of that. With its National Broadband Plan, the FCC wants to do six specific things. Some of the most noteworthy include:

  • Give at least a 100 Mbps download speed and 50 Mbps upload speed to the 100 million US homes without broadband access right now - and everyone else, too. To give you an idea, with these speeds you could download a 60 minute TV show in less than 5 seconds
  • Making sure schools, hospitals, and government buildings have outstanding high-speed access to improve our education and healthcare systems and how the government operates
  • Keeping US citizens safe by creating a nationwide public safety wireless network for emergency first-responders

Sounds great, but how much does it cost and who's paying for it? As part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, a.k.a. the "Stimulus Act," President Obama set aside $7.2 billion for the Plan. So, in essence, you, me, and every other US taxpayer is paying for the Plan.

The Plan was in the works for over a year. In February 2010, the FCC outlined the Plan, and it delivered the Plan itself to Congress in mid-March.

Nationwide Appeal?

Of course, those who don't have high-speed internet access, or no access at all, probably like the Plan. Internet providers (or internet service providers or "ISPs") probably like the Plan, too. It means more subscribers and more revenue. And, the FCC will subsidize ISPs to extend service to rural parts of the country without access now (called "dead spots").

Cable companies may like the Plan because it calls for research and development of a new device for connecting internet and cable services, ideally a box that sits atop a TV.

Who doesn't like the Plan? First and foremost, TV networks and other media outlets, like radio stations and telecommunication companies, probably aren't fans of the Plan. That's because the FCC plans to auction off some radio and TV frequencies. It wants to do this to help pay for the Plan, but to get needed airwaves for the Plan.

Also, the Plan means more US consumers likely will use the internet for entertainment and news gathering - rather than their TVs and radios. And, essentially the Plan means the end of dial-up connections, which can't please the telephone companies too much.

What Do You Think?

If you don't have high-speed access right now, do you want it? If you have it, do want it to be faster? Considering the tough economic times and other national issues we're facing, better questions may be: Do you want to pay for it?

Can the country afford it? Do you think the Plan will give the FCC and the federal government the power and the ability to regulate or control what's available on the web? If so, is that a good thing?

Whether you're for or against the FCC's Plan, let your voice be heard. The FCC can't put the Plan into effect without the help and blessing of Congress. The US Senate's Commerce Committee is holding a hearing on the Plan on March 23. Likewise, the Energy and Commerce Committee is holding a hearing on March 25. Contact your representatives and senators and let them know how you feel about the Plan.

Questions For Your Attorney

  • Can I still be charged my current high-speed access rate if the FCC's Plan creates a cheaper rate in my area?
  • Can the FCC force my small radio station to sell its airwave frequencies?
  • What's to stop the cable companies and other ISPs from raising the rates for high-speed access after one, two, or even five years?

Tagged as: Communications and Media, Telecommunications Law, high speed internet, telecommunications lawyer