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FCC Aims For Nationwide Broadband Access By 2020

Every household and business in the U.S. should have access to broadband Internet with a minimum of 4Mbps download and 1Mbps upload by 2020. That's the target set by the FCC's National Broadband Plan, released this week. The FCC was charged with the project a year ago. The plan outlines several ways that the government, including the FCC and Congress, can influence the development of broadband infrastructure in the United States, such as making 500 MHz of spectrum available for broadband over the next ten years.

While the primary target of the plan is residential users, its implementation could have a significant impact on a number of industries. Chapters of the plan discuss the effects of widespread high-speed broadband on areas such as healthcare, education, energy and the environment, and public safety. Currently, 62 percent of Americans rely on the Internet to do their jobs, and the Bureau of Labor Statistics forecasts that jobs depending on broadband and information and communication technologies will grow by 25 percent from 2008-2018. That's 2.5 times faster than the average growth across all occupations and industries, according to the report. In addition, small and medium-size businesses could benefit from universal high-speed broadband, such as by allowing its employees to telecommute or "telework," the plan says.

Many tech companies support the notion of widespread Internet access in the U.S. One statement of support praising the plan was signed by more than 30 CEOs at technology companies, including Microsoft's Steve Ballmer and Cisco's John Chambers. "It is critical that we have a smart, effective, national blueprint to bring affordable broadband to every person and business in the United States," the statement says.  "The plan correctly notes that government is a major purchaser of services and can be a catalyst for using broadband to reform the health care delivery system, improve energy conservation, preserve the environment and promote the use of broadband technology to advance education," says Tom Tauke, Verizon executive vice president for public affairs, policy and communications, in a similar statement.

In fact, complaints about the plan generally state that it doesn't go far enough. The National Telecommunications Cooperative Association, which represents rural areas, said the plan lacked the sort of incentives required to bring broadband to underserved areas, while International Broadband Electric Cooperatives Inc., which provides broadband over power lines, says it had hoped for a more aggressive plan. In addition to building more infrastructure such as by using conduits in streets to hold cable, and releasing additional spectrum for mobile broadband use, the plan calls for making public policy decisions such as changing a tax structure that allows states to tax entire companies because a few people work at home in that state, and establishing a national framework for digital goods and services taxation.

The FCC calls the plan a "beta version' and says it will be adapted over time to adjust to ongoing developments in technology and the broadband market. The agency itself will kick off the plan by creating a "timetable of proceedings" to undertake those portions of the plan that fall under its authority, and publish an annual evaluation of the plan's progress. Those elements of the plan outside its authority are being left to local, state and federal lawmakers.