One hundred million Americans do not have broadband at home and the United States continues to lag behind a large number of our international economic competitors in broadband access and speed, according to the findings of the National Broadband Plan . The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) this week unveiled the long-awaited plan with a vast array of information and recommendations to address these problems, as well as approaches to maximize the economic and social gains from broadband adoption.
In addition to promoting universal broadband access, the plan emphasizes the role of broadband in education, health care, energy and the environment, government performance, civic engagement, public safety, and economic opportunity. The plan includes a firm recognition that broadband acquisition cannot occur without the active participation of the states.
Expanding Broadband Access: A number of recommendations have clear implications for policy action by state and local governments. On the basic issue of expanded access to broadband, the FCC recommendations include:
- Congress should make clear that tribal, state, regional and local governments can build broadband networks. (Recommendation 8.19) As private investors do not always have the strongest incentives to deploy broadband in rural and underserved communities at an affordable price, states and local leaders should be allowed to step in to provide affordable broadband services that will meet their residents’ needs.
- Federal and state policies should facilitate demand aggregation and use of state, regional and local networks when that is the most cost-efficient solution for anchor institutions to meet their connectivity needs. (Recommendation 8.20) Pooling demand among institutions can provide more access to a wider constituency at lower prices.
- State legislators are essential partners in developing the framework that will help anchor institutions to obtain broadband connectivity, training, applications, and services. (Recommendation 8.22) States should compliment broadband deployment with digital education programs and fund community technology centers to ensure that residents of all ethnicities, socio-economic backgrounds, and ages understand how to be producers and consumers of this new media economy.
- When feasible, Congress should consider allowing state and local governments to get lower service prices by participating in federal contracts for advanced communications services. (Recommendation 14.2)
- The FCC plan provides additional recommendations for the inclusion of tribal leaders in broadband programs, construction of new networks in areas that are currently un-served, and the establishment of the Connect America Fund to address the broadband availability gap in un-served areas.
The FCC recommendations also focused on helping states make broadband more affordable and increasing the training needed to encourage adoption , including:
- An expansion of the Lifeline Assistance and Link-Up America programs, where states already have these discount programs in place, as in Vermont, the FCC recommends letting states determine their own eligibility requirements.
- The creation of a National Digital Literacy Program to increase the skills needed to participate in the digital economy.
- The collection of more comprehensive and reliable information on broadband pricing, performance, and competition in specific market segments to better inform policymakers on affordability problems in specific communities.
Broadband and a Greener Economy: The report also discusses the ways broadband and smart grid technologies will serve a greener economy by significantly cutting energy use -- a point Progressive States Network and our partners, the Blue Green Alliance, the Sierra Club, and the Communications Workers of America highlighted in a recent report, Networking the Green Economy .
The FCC recommendations include that States should support smart grid applications (Recommendation 12.2) and States should require electric utilities to provide consumers access to, and control of, their own digital energy information, including real-time information from smart meters and historical consumption, price and bill data over the Internet. (Recommendation 12.7) The FCC further explained, "consumers [should be given] access to, and control of, their own digital energy information, including real-time information from smart meters and historical consumption, price and bill data over the Internet.”
As our report notes, smart meters and dynamic pricing could give consumers the ability to track their own power usage and then provide a financial incentive to alter their energy consumption either  by shifting away from periods of peak demand, purchasing more environmentally friendly and energy efficient appliances, or simply decreasing overall energy usage. With the right type of consumer protections and technological metrics in place, smart meters can help individuals purchase energy more efficiently.
Other Issues: The FCC also highlighted the importance of telehealth, a national public safety broadband network, working with states to provide cyber-security protection, support for e-commerce, and state monitoring of ARRA Broadband related projects, an issue we discussed in a previous Dispatch that analyzed trends in ARRA funding .
In general, advocacy groups  and telecommunications companies  alike have praised the intentions outlined in the plan. Through their own distinct lens, however, they question how these ambitious goals would be reached. The Plan is undeniably a good first step, but some are already questioning whether it is enough. Only with Congress moving forward with the Plan’s recommendations and states taking their own actions to universalize broadband adoption within their jurisdictions will we reap the full promise of these communication technologies.
Federal Communications Commission - The National Broadband Plan
Progressive States Network - "Networking the Green Economy: How Broadband and Related Technologies Can Build a Green Economic Future"
Progressive States Network - The FCC Extends E-Rate Broadband Access Program to the General Public Progressive States Network - Press Release: Progressive States Network Applauds FCC National Broadband Plan
The Washington Post- How the FCC’s New National Broadband Plan is Expected to Affect Consumers
The New York Times - FCC Questioned on Its Far-Reaching Plan to Expand Broadband Access
National Association of Telecommunications Officers and Advisors — Press Release: NATOA Applauds FCC’s National Broadband Plan