A plan is underway in the halls of the FCC that will impact your ability to participate in our democracy, to be educated and to earn a living. The FCC received direction from Congress through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, commonly known as the Stimulus Bill, to create a national strategy for broadband and to ensure access and adoption of broadband across the United States.
The FCC released on April 8, 2009 a Notice of Inquiry (NOI) for public comment on The National Broadband Plan (NBP). This NOI sets the issues to be considered and areas where the FCC is seeking input from industry, state and local governments, international resources, technology experts, policy experts and the public.
The Commission needs the help of a wide and deep set of views to answer questions ranging from,
- “whether a definition of “broadband” should be tethered to a numerical definition or, instead, an “experiential” metric based on the consumer’s ability to access sufficiently robust data for certain identifiable broadband services…”
- to “We seek comment on the value of open networks as an effective and efficient mechanism for ensuring broadband access for all Americans, and specifically on how the term “open” should be defined…”
- to “We seek comment on whether subsidizing the recurring subscription cost for broadband service, or subsidizing the fixed costs of obtaining computer equipment could address the affordability of broadband for all Americans…”.
Other areas of comment include Public Saftey and Homeland Security, Delivery of Health Care, Worker Training, Entreprenuerial Activity, Venture Capital, and Improving Government Accountability.
The scope of NBP touches every aspect of public and private endeavor, and therefore, every American.
Those coming under FCC regulations including Internet service providers, radio, television, cable companies and wireless service providers are guaranteed to engage on the areas of defining broadband, service requirements, pricing, deep packet inspection, nondiscrimination, competition and consumer welfare. Regulations on broadband directly impact their businesses and profits. In addition, these entities have an advantage in that they know the FCC, it’s processes and it members.
It is, therefore, critical that the public adds it’s comments on the digital divide, affordability, open networks, and even non-discrimination of network traffic as doing so ensures consideration by the commission of the public interest and needs for communication, media consumption and creation and even the ability to participate in government.
What’s at Stake?
Broadband is currently defined as 768 kbps as either download or upload which will prove insufficient when measured against the demands as more media moves from print to online, gaming and simulations become more sophisticated and software and services move into the cloud.
The US has failed to keep pace with the rest of the world on broadband deployment, speed and price. Eight years ago the US was ranked 4th as compared to other nations. Today the US ranks 15th, 17th or even 22nd depending on the source.
The chart below shows where the US stood in comparison to other countries as of May 2008. Relying upon deregulation and the private sector alone hasn’t served Americans well as compared with Japan and Korea where deployments are primarily fiber.
Recent attempts by service providers like Time Warner Cable and ATT to limit usage through the implementation of data caps, and the industry wide practice of wireless providers to cap data usage on so-called unlimited plans provides the evidence for how consumer needs can be at cross purposes to the profit goals of broadband providers. As noted in TWC SEC filing, their goal was to move their customers up the usage pricing tiers quickly, but what effect does such strategy have on unemployed Americans who want and need to create an online presence for their job search? What effect does TWC stratgey have on lower middle class and the poor? What effect does this sort of strategy have on our government’s push to engage the public via video on issues and accountability?
Our economic future is inextricably tied to our access to broadband Internet connections. The US economy no longer relies upon a manufacturing base, and more Americans are relying upon the Internet for their income. Whether you work for a technology company that provides services via the network like Microsoft, Apple and Google, or you are a a new media star on YouTube, the ability to interact with your customers online and grow that customer base online makes broad availability of broadband critical to your survival.
The vast increase of video consumption and creation for communication, education and even health delivery punctuates the demand for broadband. Congressional requirement that the FCC create a national strategy recognizes this fundamental shift in our economic future. Some estimates have stated video accounts for 70% of all Internet traffic.
Video information resources available via the Internet include resources and points of view not represented in other forms of media. As printed new outlets are shrinking, online news outlets are exploding. Our ability to be informed citizens is becoming more and more reliant upon access to a diverse and variety of news sources that populate the Internet. A great example is provided by current FCC Interim Chairman, Michael Copps during an interview with Bill Moyers from a 2007 discussion on media consolidation and Net Neutrality.
“There was a consolidation hearing in a town with alot of media consolidation, I think it was in Arizona, and nothing had been reported about our coming. We had 500 people show up. So I went down there. I went down there and asked, how did you find out about this meeting? And one of them replied, I heard about it on the B-B-C.”
Viewing the full video is highly recommended as many of the concerns Copps expresses on media consolidation and Net Neutrality are inherent in a national broadband strategy that should serve the public interest. Your comments can help the FCC understand the issues and needs from school teachers, students, technology experts, health care workers, online marketing consultants, YouTube stars, bloggers, IT workers, job seekers, charities, and everyone in between, even twitterers.
I encourage everyone to email FCC Interim Chairman Michael Copps at firstname.lastname@example.org and request public hearings around the country before the June 8, 2009 dealine for comments. This will help ensure participation from those who are currently on the underserved side of the digital divide, and from those who have valuable contributions to make to the issues of a broadband strategy technology needs.
A copy of the hundreds of questions the FCC faces and on which they have requested input is avialable in The National Broadband Plan NOI. Comments can be submitted via e-mail by following the instructions on the FCC web site under Electronic Comment Filing System. Scrolling down the page you’ll find examples of the form required to submit your comment. An important note is that comments must be submitted in plain text, so do not send HTML formatted email as the system may reject your entry. A call to the FCC Help Desk to clarify this issue at (202) 418-0193 was not returned at the time of publication of this article. When clarification is received, and update will be included.
What you Can do Now
- Read the NOI
- Submit Comments to the FCC
- Call your Senator and support confimration for Julius Genakowski as FCC Chairman
- Join the FriendFeed group and join the conversation here in comments below.
- Return here to mobilejones.com – I’ll post audio interviews from a number of stakeholders and those involved more directly in policy making on this issue.