National Broadband Plan
The FCC's 376-page National Broadband Plan, while a testament to the ability of federal bureaucracy to fill large amounts of paper, stands to benefit enterprise IT over the next few years in several areas, if the agency follows through.
First, the FCC says that it will be publishing market information on broadband pricing and competition. Will this be as useful as PriceWatch and eBay are in determining what you should pay? We're not sure. But transparency itself should help: A market where all players know what everybody's charging tends to be one where prices dip as low as possible.
Second, the FCC says it will make additional wireless spectrum available, and it will update its rules for backhaul spectrum. President Obama has thrown his weight behind this movement, directing the National Telecommunications and Information Administration--the folks behind the broadband stimulus--to help the FCC with a plan to make 500 MHz of spectrum available by the fourth quarter of this year.
It's unclear what the licensing procedures will be, and for which portion of the additional spectrum. Our bet: some mix of unlicensed spectrum (like 2.4 GHz, a nightmare for IT departments that want to avoid interference), some fully licensed (like 800 MHz, whose paperwork can take months or years to get processed), and some "lightly licensed" (like the 3,650-MHz band that was allocated for WiMax in 2005, which requires two or more licensees in the same region to cooperate). When additional spectrum comes online, it should revitalize the market and create product innovations, which should make broadband wireless a bit less difficult for enterprises to deploy.
The FCC also plans to improve rights-of-way procedures. Power and other companies that own poles either have undocumented or onerous agreements for anyone wanting to attach to a pole or bridge. Streamlining and standardizing this process would be welcome news to telecom market entrants and user organizations that want to bypass the telecom providers. The unanswered question is, how will the FCC "encourage" rights-of-way owners to improve these procedures?
The National Broadband Plan also stipulates longer-term (within the next decade) goals, including that 100 million consumers are able to access affordable 100-Mbps actual download speeds, 50-Mbps upload--more than 10 times faster than what most U.S. consumers can now get. More interesting to enterprise IT, the plan outlines a goal of affordable access to 1-Gbps links for "anchor institutions"--hospitals, community centers, schools, and so on. As these institutions get affordable links, other large institutions, like big companies, will also get affordable high-speed links.
The FCC doesn't always have the authority to say how these goals will be accomplished. But in the "implementation" chapter of the National Broadband Plan, it suggests who (including the FCC) should pursue them. For example, it recommends that the executive branch create a "broadband strategy council" consisting of advisers from the White House and its Office of Management and Budget, NTIA, FCC, and other agencies. The FCC also has committed to publishing an evaluation of its progress as part of its annual 706 report, named after section 706 of the Telecommunications Act of 1996. You can track 706 reports at www.fcc.gov/broadband/706.html.