In its long-awaited report on availability of broadband for Americans, the FCC has found that 14 to 24 million Americans lack access to broadband, underscoring the need for reform of the Universal Service Fund that primarily provides service to under-served and non-served rural areas.
The report, approved 3-2 along strict political party lines, calls for the reform of FCC's universal service programs in support of public-private partnerships as well as for the "unleashing" of additional spectrum for mobile broadband.
Using the report to build support for the FCC's National Broadband Plan, FCC chairman Julius Genachowski said: "As numerous studies show, America is behind where it needs to be on broadband to maintain its global competitiveness and drive economic growth."
The report was immediately challenged by ranking Republican member of the FCC Robert M. McDowell who said: "I question whether this Report will be used to justify additional regulation, contrary to the Act's (the 1996 Telecom Act) goal of 'removing barriers to infrastructure investment.'"
Verizon also challenged the report's conclusions arguing that "hundreds of billions of dollars in private investment" has resulted in "extraordinary progress in deploying broadband."
The battle lines over broadband have continued to harden with the three Democratic members of the commission noting that U.S. broadband access is slipping vis--vis other industrialized nations and more management of broadband is required to help the U.S. keep up. The Republicans have generally argued that new regulations aren't needed because U.S. companies have done a good job in bringing broadband to most Americans.
The $8 billion Universal Service fund is also a regulatory football with Genachowski arguing that it needs reforming to bring broadband to more underserved Americans, particularly those in rural areas and most companies resisting change.
The FCC submitted the National Broadband Plan to Congress earlier this year. It is likely to be debated for months.