This morning, the FCC announced plans to develop a national broadband strategy (PDF link), with the end goal of ensuring that every American has access to a broadband Internet connection. The development of this strategy–one of the requirements that was written into the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, more commonly known as the “stimulus package”–is both welcome and long overdue. As many proponents of increased broadband deployment have noted, a number of countries around the world have developed and implemented national broadband strategies with impressive results, so it’s high time that the U.S. follow suit. But what, exactly, should our national broadband strategy look like? In a document filed with both the FCC and the NTIA yesterday, the Public Interest Spectrum Coalition*, of which Public Knowledge is a part, made a set of recommendations regarding the implementation of the broadband provisions in the stimulus package.
PISC’s comments were filed in response to a request for information made by the NTIA last month, a request that acknowledges the herculean task that has been set before the agency. The NTIA and the FCC have been granted an extraordinary opportunity to promote the use of broadband in this country and to bring the benefits of connectivity–increased civic participation, economic opportunity and access to knowledge–to underserved and unserved areas. Congress, however, did not give these agencies free reign to design and implement a broadband strategy in whatever manner they please. Rather, in the text of the stimulus act, Congress recognizes that open, non-discriminatory and interconnected networks hold the greatest potential to deliver long-term value to the folks footing the bill–the American taxpayers. As such, PISC made the following recommendations to the NTIA and the FCC, urging the agencies to encourage the deployment of broadband in a manner that is consistent with the principles outlined by Congress:
- In order to comply with the conditions of the stimulus act, the NTIA should ensure that all networks funded by taxpayer money are open, nondiscriminatory and interconnected.
- In order to preserve transparency and reduce delay, the States should play a limited role in the process of selecting and allocating grants and loans for the purposes of broadband deployment. The States should, however, be asked for input with regard to the criteria by which those grants and loans will be awarded.
- In choosing grant and loan recipients, the NTIA should prioritize unserved and underserved areas, entities acting in the public interest and projects that aim to deploy infrastructure that will remain viable in the long-term.
- In order to ensure that small entities are able to propose projects with transformative potential on a local scale, the NTIA should set aside $25 million in funding for a “small entities” fund.
- In order to create a roadmap for the broadband stimulus initiatives, the NTIA should produce a national broadband map that furthers a more sophisticated understanding of the state, speed, price, availability, use and impact of wired and wireless broadband services in the United States.
By following the above set of recommendations, the Federal government can ensure that the deployment of broadband networks encourages American competitiveness and innovation, increases access to knowledge and brings the benefits of our information society to all Americans. For more details and to read the full list of suggestions, see the full text of PISC’s comments to the NTIA and the FCC (HTML | PDF).
* The Public Interest Spectrum Coalition includes the CUWiN Foundation, Common Cause, Consumer Federation of America, Consumers Union, Free Press, Media Access Project, the New America Foundation, Public Knowledge, the Open Source Wireless Coalition and U.S. PIRG