National Broadband Plan: A guide to America's Internet revolution
The federal government plans to give Americans the world's fastest Internet access. How will they do it—and when will it happen?
Truth, justice, and high-speed internet access for all? The Federal Communications Commission is set to present Congress with an "ambitious" proposal to establish a super-high-speed broadband Internet network throughout the USA within the next 10 years. Not everyone is thrilled with the "National Broadband Plan": Television broadcasters say it will compromise their business, and are already gearing up to fight it. Here, a concise guide to the FCC's plan, what it could mean for Americans—and why it might not work:
What's the goal?The National Broadband Plan is designed to give every American access to affordable high-speed Internet, and to increase broadband download speeds from an average of 3 to 4 megabits per second to at least 100 Mbps.
How many Americans have access to high-speed broadband right now?Just over one-fourth of the population, or around 81 million citizens.How does that compare with, say, Germany?In terms of broadband access, America's ranking has dropped to 15th (down from fourth in 2009) behind countries like Germany, Sweden, and Canada (the Netherlands ranks first). While not all studies confirm that ranking, says FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski in The Washington Post, "none puts us even close to where we need to be" competitively. (Watch an interview with the FCC chairman.)
How will the National Broadband Plan work?It will expand high-speed Internet access to rural areas and open up new wireless bandwidth. You'll be able to use smart phones or wireless devices like an Apple iPad as easily in Montana as in Manhattan.
How much will this vast undertaking cost?The FCC estimates the plan could cost up to $350 billion over the next 10 years.
Who's going to foot the bill?This remains unclear. A corollary question: How much of the cost will be covered by tax dollars versus private investment?
Why is this so important?Americans will pay less for high-speed Internet access. Beyond that, the FCC says the plan will improve education; reduce costs of health-care providers; allow the technology sector to innovate more aggressively; and give small businesses greater access to customers, especially in rural areas. But the "biggest winners" may be "mobile phone companies" like AT&T and Verizon, says Todd Shields in BusinessWeek, since the plan would greatly increase access to nationwide high-speed wireless signals.
When could we start seeing changes?The FCC hopes changes will take place within the next five years, but that doesn't factor in opposition to the plan, expected to be significant. "Each bullet point [of the plan]," says analyst Craig Moffett in an interview with The New York Times, "will trigger its own tortuous battle."
Who opposes it and why?
The most fervent objections come from television broadcasters, who'd be required to "voluntarily" donate 500 MHz of their unused wireless bandwidth to the federal government, which would, in turn, sell the "spectrums" to the highest telecom bidder and give the TV stations a percentage. Broadcasters say this plan compromises their own expansion potential.
Is it just TV broadcasters who don't like it?No. Many in Washington and elsewhere are raising the specter of government Internet regulation. "Say goodbye to an open, flexible, consumer-driven Internet," says an anonymous blogger at RedCounty.com, and "say hello to a big-government, regulated, censored behemoth."