In the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA), Congress required the FCC to prepare a national broadband plan, to be delivered not later than February 17, 2010. The primary objective of the plan was "to ensure that all people of the United States have access to broadband capability. . . ." The plan was to include "an analysis of the most effective and efficient mechanisms for ensuring broadband access . . ." and "a plan for use of broadband infrastructure and services in advancing consumer welfare. . . ."
Federal Communications Commission
On April 8, 2009, the FCC issued a Notice of Inquiry to collect information and ideas for how to respond to Congress’s mandate for a national plan for broadband. In this notice, the FCC includes licensed and unlicensed radio frequencies as delivery channels for broadband. It seeks comment on the effectiveness of current spectrum policies and asks whether access to spectrum may pose a constraint on broadband access and development. However, in the same notice, regarding policies to increase the availability of spectrum for wireless broadband, the FCC states that it “has made significant wireless spectrum suitable for broadband service available through auction and through other mechanisms.” The notice does not commit to delivering a coordinated spectrum policy as part of the national plan for broadband.
- Goal No. 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.
- Goal No. 2: The United States should lead the world in mobile innovation, with the fastest and most extensive wireless networks of any nation.
- Goal No. 3: Every American should have affordable access to robust broadband service, and the means and skills to subscribe if they so choose.
- Goal No. 4: Every American community should have affordable access to at least 1 gigabit per second broadband service to anchor institutions such as schools, hospitals and government buildings.
- Goal No. 5: To ensure the safety of the American people, every first responder should have access to a nationwide, wireless, interoperable broadband public safety network.
- Goal No. 6: To ensure that America leads in the clean energy economy, every American should be able to use broadband to track and manage their real-time energy consumption.
The National Broadband Plan is categorized into three parts:
- Part I (Innovation and Investment), which "discusses recommendations to maximize innovation, investment and consumer welfare, primarily through competition. It then recommends more efficient allocation and management of assets government controls or influences." The recommendations address a number of issues, including spectrum policy, improved broadband data collection, broadband performance standards and disclosure, special access rates, interconnection, privacy and cybersecurity, child online safety, poles and rights-of-way, research and experimentation (R&E) tax credits, R&D funding.
- Part II (Inclusion), which "makes recommendations to promote inclusion — to ensure that all Americans have access to the opportunities broadband can provide." Issues include reforming the Universal Service Fund, intercarrier compensation, federal assistance for broadband in Tribal lands, expanding existing broadband grant and loan programs at the Rural Utilities Service, enable greater broadband connectivity in anchor institutions, and improved broadband adoption and utilization especially among disadvantaged and vulnerable populations.
- Part III (National Purposes), which "makes recommendations to maximize the use of broadband to address national priorities. This includes reforming laws, policies and incentives to maximize the benefits of broadband in areas where government plays a significant role." National purposes include health care, education, energy and the environment, government performance, civic engagement, and public safety. Issues include telehealth and health IT, online learning and modernizing educational broadband infrastructure, digital literacy and job training, smart grid and smart buildings, federal support for broadband in small businesses, telework within the federal government, cybersecurity and protection of critical broadband infrastructure, copyright of public digital media, interoperable public safety communications, next generation 911 networks and emergency alert systems.
Meeting Broadband Policy Goals
Ideally, spectrum policy should be synchronized with broadband policy. The effort to move to energy efficiency is an example of how spectrum policy can affect other policy goals. The installation of smart meters in homes and other buildings is a key component of Smart Grid planning. Establishing the connection between a home’s smart meter and a utility could be done over wires, or with a wireless link over unlicensed or licensed frequencies. Coordinating Smart Grid goals with the goal of providing high-quality broadband to all could be achieved through the smart meter link by investing in fiber to the home (FTTH) or assuring that a wireless connection to a smart meter has sufficient bandwidth to provide robust broadband service. Furthermore, an efficient Smart Grid requires spectrum capacity to support the broadband communications infrastructure required to operate the grid. A Smart Grid policy that presumes the availability of suitable spectrum for wireless connections could fall short of its intended goal unless spectrum policy is aligned.
- Pub. L. No. 111-5, Div. B, Tit. VI, §6001(k).
- FCC, A National Broadband Plan for Our Future, Notice of Inquiry, Docket No. 09-51 (Apr. 8, 2009).
- Id. For example, in ¶¶19 and 20.
- Id. ¶44.
- National Broadband Plan, at 11.
- UTC — The Utilities Telecom Council has published a report that argues for the allocation of 30 MHz of spectrum at 1800-1830 MHz to meet wireless communication needs. Utilities Telecom Council, "The Utility Spectrum Crisis: A Critical Need to Enable Smart Grids" (Jan. 2009) (full-text). Canada is in the process of a rule-making procedure that would make the 1800-1830 MHz band available for “electrical infrastructure.” See Gazette Notice SMSE-008-08, June 7, 2008 (full-text).