FCC Releases National Broadband Plan

March 16, 2010

Overview and General Summary

On March 16, 2010, after a 13-month study, the Federal Communications Commission released to the public and Congress “Connecting America: The National Broadband Plan,” containing its policy recommendations for achieving national goals identified by Congress in 2009 legislation, including ensuring that every American has “access to broadband capability.”

Describing broadband as “the great infrastructure challenge of the early 21st century,” the Plan offers dozens of recommendations in four broad areas, which we outline below, along with six long-term goals. The Plan “seeks to ensure that the entire broadband ecosystem – networks, devices, content, and applications – is healthy.” About half of its recommendations are addressed to the FCC, and the other half to the Executive Branch, Congress, and state and local governments. The recommendations for internal FCC actions are expected to result in dozens of new rulemaking proceedings in coming months, according to Commission officials.

The Plan groups its recommendations into the following four broad areas:

1. Fostering competition across the broadband “ecosystem”:

  • New data collection programs to provide more accurate data on broadband deployment, pricing, and competition to the FCC and other agencies
  • Pricing and performance disclosure mandates for broadband services providers, to assist consumers in making an informed choice among services
  • A comprehensive review of wholesale competition rules to ensure competition in both fixed and mobile broadband services, including completing ongoing proceedings addressing special access pricing and copper loop retirement policies, and encouraging IP-to-IP interconnection between voice networks (see our separate report on this topic for more details)
  • Allocate more spectrum for unlicensed use, and encourage more use of wireless backhaul spectrum (see our separate spectrum policy report for more details)
  • Expedite action on data roaming among wireless broadband providers
  • Promote a competitive and innovative video set-top box market by requiring all providers to install a “gateway” device for new customers and customers replacing existing set-top boxes
  • Clarify the law permitting state and local governments to provide broadband services to their citizens where private investment is inadequate
  • Protect consumer privacy by clarifying the legal duties of firms that collect personal data online concerning disclosure of collections, correction of errors, and release of data to third parties (see our separate report on this topic for more details)

2. Promoting access to government-owned and government-influenced assets:

  • Make 500 MHz of new spectrum available for broadband within 10 years, including 300 MHz for mobile use within five years
  • Create incentives for existing licensees to repurpose spectrum to more flexible uses
  • Promote greater transparency in spectrum allocation, assignment and use to facilitate an efficient secondary market
  • Expand opportunities for innovative spectrum access by facilitating unlicensed use of spectrum and increasing research into new technologies
    • See our separate spectrum policy report for more details on the four preceding recommendations
  • Reduce pole attachment rental rates, create a uniform pole rental rate, and simplify the process for gaining access to poles
  • Improve rights-of-way management including promoting use of federal land and infrastructure for broadband, and expediting resolution of disputes over rights-of-way access, conditions, and fees
  • Facilitate efficient new infrastructure construction, such as federal funding conditions that would require incorporation of broadband infrastructure into new highway, road and bridge project
    • See our separate report on infrastructure construction, right-of-way management and pole attachments for more details on the three preceding recommendations
  • Provide ultra-high-speed broadband connectivity to select Department of Defense installations

3. Creating incentives for universal availability and adoption of broadband:

  • Create a new Connect America Fund (CAF) to support the provision of affordable broadband and voice services. This will primarily be funded by shifting funds from existing Universal Service Fund programs, but the Plan also suggests that Congress appropriate a few billion dollars over two to three years to kick-start the Fund.
  • Create a new Mobility Fund to provide targeted funding to fill in 3G network coverage dead zones, apparently on a state-by-state basis.
  • Phase out legacy High Cost Universal Service funding over the next 10 years and shift all resources to the new funds.
    • See our separate Universal Service funding report for more details on the three previous recommendations
  • Reform intercarrier compensation by eliminating per-minute charges over the next 10 years and enabling adequate cost recovery through the CAF (see our separate report on this topic for more details)
  • Design the new funds in a tax-efficient manner to use funds most effectively and minimize consumer contribution burdens
  • Broaden the USF contribution base to keep the funds sustainable over time (see our separate report on this topic for more details)
  • Expand the Lifeline and Link-Up programs to support the purchase of broadband services by low-income Americans
  • Consider requiring free or low-cost mobile broadband service in a newly-licensed block of spectrum
  • Create a National Digital Literacy Corps to teach digital literacy skills so that every American has the opportunity to become digitally literate

4. Promoting use of broadband to achieve national priorities:

  • Healthcare:
    • Reform the FCC’s Rural HealthCare USF fund to ensure health care providers in both rural and urban areas have access to affordable broadband service, and to subsidize construction of broadband infrastructure where necessary
    • Expand reimbursement for e-care
    • Modernize regulations like device approval, credentialing, privileging and licensing to remove obstacles to e-care
    • Promote interoperability of healthcare data and patient control over their data to advance innovative applications and advanced analytics
  • Education:
    • Upgrade the FCC’s E-Rate USF program to increase flexibility and efficiency and foster innovation, and to fund wireless connectivity to devices that students can take home (see our separate Universal Service funding report for more details)
    • Promote online learning
    • Foster adoption of electronic educational records.
  • Energy and the environment:
    • Modernize the electric grid with broadband
    • Make energy data readily accessible to consumers
    • Improve energy efficiency and environmental impact of the ICT sector
  • Economic opportunity:
    • Promote small business use of broadband services and applications
    • Expand online job training and placement programs
    • Integrate broadband assessment and planning into economic development efforts
  • Government performance and civic engagement:
    • Allow state and local governments to purchase service under federal contracts such as Networx
    • Improve government operations through cloud computing, cybersecurity, secure authentication and online service delivery
    • Make government more open and transparent using online tools
  • Public safety and homeland security:
    • Deploy a nationwide, interoperable public safety mobile broadband network, at a capital cost of up to $6.5 billion over 10 years
    • Promote development and deployment of next-generation 911 and emergency alert systems
    • Promote cybersecurity and critical infrastructure survivability

The Plan also recommends six long-term goals to be achieved over the next 10 years:

  1. At least 100 million U.S. homes should have affordable access to actual download speeds of at least 100 megabits per second and actual upload speeds of at least 50 megabits per second
  2. The United States should have the fastest and most extensive wireless networks of any nation in the world
  3. Every American should have affordable access to robust broadband services, and the means and skills to subscribe to them
  4. “Anchor institutions” (schools, hospitals, government buildings) in every community should have affordable access to at least 1 gigabit per second broadband service
  5. Every first responder should have access to a nationwide, wireless, interoperable broadband public safety network
  6. Every American should be able to use broadband to track and manage their real-time energy consumption.

This is one of a series of reports by Bingham’s Telecom, Media, and Technology practice group focusing on specific aspects of the FCC’s National Broadband Plan. If you would like to receive our reports on other topics, or to consult with us about how the Plan and its implementing proceedings may affect your business, please contact:

Andrew D. Lipman, Partner, 202.373.6033

Catherine Wang, Partner, 202.373.6037

Russell M. Blau, Partner, 202.373.6035


Or any other member of the Telecom, Media, & Technology Practice Group.

This article was originally published by Bingham McCutchen LLP.