FCC seeks more time to complete National Broadband Plan

FCC chairman requests additional 30 days to deliver completed plan

Citing what he called an unprecedented level of public participation and comment in the development of a nation plan to spur universal deployment of broadband Internet access, Federal Communications Commission Chairman Julius Genachowski has asked congressional leaders for an extra 30 days to deliver the plan, now due Feb. 17.

“The commission makes this request in the interest of advancing a national broadband plan that reflects the extraordinary importance of the task and that is responsive to the unprecedented record developed during the comment and workshop period,” Genachowski said in a Jan. 7 letter to the chairmen of the House and Senate Commerce committees.

He said that the extension would not affect the FCC’s budget for the National Broadband Plan, which was mandated as part of the National Recovery Act, and asked that it be accepted March 17.

Universal access to broadband Internet access has been designated as a driver for the nation’s economic recovery, and the FCC issued a notice of inquiry in April 2009 seeking input on the development of the plan. The goals are to ensure access to broadband capability for all Americans, provide a detailed strategy for affordability and adoption of broadband and to maximize utilization of broadband and craft a strategy for using broadband to achieve national purposes. Under the plan, grants will be provided by the Agriculture Department’s Rural Utilities Service and the Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration.

The commission invited broad public participation in developing the plan, and this summer launched a blog called Blogband, to chronicle development of the plan and invite comment. It also launched a Twitter channel to report progress on the National Broadband Plan.

Genachowski called the commission’s efforts to develop the plan unparalleled. They have included more than 50 public workshops and field hearings, more than a dozen public notices seeking input and advice, and significant hours at commission meetings devoted to providing public updates on the plan’s development.

One of the challenges in developing a National Broadband Plan was to define “broadband.” In the original notice of inquiry, FCC noted that “broadband can be defined in myriad ways.” Most definitions focus on throughput speeds, but speeds advertised by service providers often have only a tenuous relation with the speeds actually delivered, which can vary depending on applications being used, network conditions and other factors. Other performance metrics, such as latency, also are crucial for some applications, such as voice and videoconferencing. The commission solicited public input in August on what the definition for broadband should be.

In his letter, Genachowski said the additional time will allow the FCC to continue to obtain input from stakeholders in the plan and more fully brief commissioners and the House and Senate committees as the plan comes together.

The CTIA, a wireless industry association, supported the extension, and CTIA president and CEO Steve Largent acknowledging that the task is a difficult one.

"We know the FCC has and is working diligently to complete the plan, and believe it is more important that the Commission get it right,” he said in a prepared statement. “If they need more time to get it right, then Congress should allow it."

About the Author

William Jackson is a Maryland-based freelance writer.

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