Broadband plan calls for 100Mb/s Internet access across United States

Broadcasters have been anxiously waiting to hear how much spectrum the FCC will ask them to relinquish to support the Obama’s administration’s vision of nationwide broadband access. FCC chairman Julius Genachowski last week provided a hint, calling on Internet access providers to boost the speed of Internet access in the United States to 100Mb/s and higher. He said the goal is part of the commission’s national broadband plan to be presented to Congress next month.

What this means to individual stations — in other words, how many megabits of their 6MHz they now occupy — remains to be resolved.

In an effort he called “100 Squared,” Genachowski said the new goal is to have at least 100Mb/s access to 100 million homes in the United States. He set no timetable for such a rollout. He also warned that the nation shouldn’t stop at the symbolic 100Mb/s and pointed to the Google Fiber project’s 1Gb/s as an example of what can be done by a motivated private company.

Such extraordinary speed of the Internet would transform communications — including television, telephones and the Web access. It would open new distribution systems for high-definition video and revolutionize such areas as telemedicine and advanced education. Much of it would also be wireless, a lingering threat to television broadcasters whose spectrum is being viewed as increasingly precious by the FCC.

"Right now, the United States does not have nearly enough spectrum to meet its medium- and long-term mobile broadband needs,” Genachowski said. “There may be no greater obstacle to our country having a world-leading mobile broadband infrastructure, and the economic benefits that would bring.”

The FCC chairman was addressing a Washington, D.C., conference of the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners.

The Broadband Plan will include a recommendation to free up a significant amount of spectrum in the years ahead for ample licensed and unlicensed use, Genachowski said. Repeatedly, the government has argued that reclaiming broadcast airwaves is a key source of needed spectrum. Broadcasters have fought it even though the government has offered to pay for the spectrum.

The FCC chairman said about 14 million Americans don’t have broadband access at all. He called for broadband adoption in the United States to rise from 65 percent today to 90 percent. The National Broadband Plan, he said, will gradually repurpose the Universal Service Fund from phone lines to Internet connections.

Today’s cable modem service often peaks at 25Mb/s and is typically very expensive at that rate. However, new DOCSIS 3.0 modems can reach 100Mb/s but are only available in a few areas and are so far only sold as 50Mb/s connections. Verizon is the best prepared with its fiber-optic FiOS network but would need to complete more upgrades to reach the 100Mb/s speed across most of its network.

Internet providers have also traditionally been resistant to any moves to supply broadband to many rural areas that would be needed to reach the 90 percent coverage target of the plan. The advent of 4G is expected to mitigate some of this as it substantially lowers the cost of covering a remote area, although LTE technology and similar standards may provide much less than 100Mb/s in practice.

Beyond high-speed Internet service, the broadband plan will contain a comprehensive set of recommendations for all parts of the ecosystem, Genachowki said. He mentioned a few:

• A recommendation for improving the highly successful E-Rate program — which made Internet connections in America’s classrooms and libraries a reality.
• A recommendation to modernize the FCC’s rural telemedicine program to connect thousands of additional clinics and break down bureaucratic barriers to telehealth.
• A recommendation to take the steps necessary to deploy broadband to accelerate a smart grid.
• A recommendation to develop public/private partnerships to increase Internet adoption, and ensure that all children can use the Internet proficiently and safely.
• A recommendation for lowering the cost of broadband build-out — wired and wireless — through the smart use of government rights of way and conduits.
• A recommendation for creating an interoperable public safety network to replace the currently broken system.