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National broadband plan to set US on path to digital inclusion

In ten years 90% of Americans will have affordable access to 100Mbps broadband, with schools, hospitals and army bases getting 1Gbps access, if Congress adopts the national broadband plan published today by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).

To make this happen the FCC will free up and make available 500MHz of radio spectrum, ten times the bandwidth now available, remove barriers to entry for existing and new broadband providers, and improve the amount and quality of information available on broadband markets.

"The National Broadband Plan is a 21st century roadmap to spur economic growth and investment, create jobs, educate our children, protect our citizens, and engage in our democracy," said FCC chairman Julius Genachowski.

He said action was needed to meet the challenges of global competitiveness, and harness the power of broadband to help address "so many vital national issues".

Blair Levin, who led the broadband initiative, said the plan was "a call to action" to connect America anew. "If we meet it, we will have networks, devices, and applications that create new solutions to seemingly intractable problems," he said.

The US had failed to harness broadband to transform delivery of government services, healthcare, education, public safety, energy conservation, economic development, and other national priorities, the FCC said.

Background research showed that nearly 100 million Americans lacked broadband at home, and 14 million could not access it at all. Only 42% of people with disabilities used broadband at home, and only 5% of people living on tribal lands had access.

The cost of digital exclusion for the student unable to access the internet to complete a homework assignment, or for the unemployed worker who could not search online for a job, continued to grow, the FCC said.

The FCC warned of "a looming shortage of wireless spectrum" that could hurt US innovation and leadership in popular wireless mobile broadband services. "More useful applications, devices, and content are needed to create value for consumers," it said.

The goals for the next 10 years were to:

• Connect 100 million households to affordable 100Mbps service;

• Provide every American community with affordable access to a minimum 1Gbps broadband at anchor institutions such as schools, hospitals, and military sites;

• Ensure that the US led in mobile innovation by making 500MHz of spectrum newly available for licensed and unlicensed use;

• Move adoption rates from roughly 65% to more than 90%, and ensure that every child is digitally literate when he or she leaves high school;

• Switch existing universal service funds from supporting analogue to digital technologies to bring affordable broadband to rural communities, schools, libraries, and vulnerable populations;

• Promote competition through greater transparency, removing barriers to entry, and conducting market-based analysis with quality data on price, speed, and availability;

• Enhance public safety by providing every first responder with access to a nationwide, wireless, interoperable public safety network.

The plan was mandated by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act in February 2009 and produced by an FCC task force. It arose via 36 public workshops, nine field hearings, and 31 public notices that produced 75,000 pages of public comments.

The online debate, with 131 blogposts, triggered 1,489 comments; 181 ideas that picked up 6,100 votes; 69,500 views on YouTube; and 335,000 Twitter followers, plus independent research and data-gathering.

The FCC said about half the plan's recommendations were for itself, while the rest were for Congress, the White House, state and local government, and the private and nonprofit sectors.

The full plan will be published later today.


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