FCC Asks for More Time on Broadband Plan

WASHINGTON: The Federal Communications Commission is planning to miss its Feb. 17 deadline for presenting a nationwide broadband plan to Congress. FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski is asking for a one-month extension.

"The commission respectfully requests a one-month extension for the delivery of the final plan," Genachowski wrote in a letter to Sen. John Rockefeller (D-W.V.), chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee. "The commission makes this request in the interest of advancing a national broadband plan that reflects the extraordinary importance of the task that is responsive to the unprecedented record developed during the comment and workshop period.... It has included over 50 public workshops and field hearings, more than a dozen Public Notices, and signficant hours devoted at commission meetings to provide the public with updates on the plan's development."

The chairman asked to have the due date moved to March 17.

News of the probable request emerged when Commissioner Robert McDowell released a statement expressing disappointment that the deadline would likely be missed. (McDowell’s message was published on several media sites, though it was not fully distributed nor posted on the FCC Web site.)

The FCC was directed to develop a nationwide, wireless broadband plan about a year ago, before it had a full complement of five commissioners. The DTV transition took precedence through the summer, then the commission’s ideas on broadband began emerging in the fall, with a particular focus on reallocating broadcast TV spectrum for the project. The suggestion fired a war of rhetoric between proponents and broadcasters. Proponents said broadcast frequencies would be easiest to reallocate. Broadcasters asked what was happening with the spectrum they just left open from concluding the DTV transition. Congress called for an inventory of the airwaves in question.

Most recently, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, which manages the spectrum, said in a filing with the FCC that more was necessary to create a wireless broadband service capable of competing with incumbents. The filing was in line with another from the Justice Department expressing concerns about the lack of competition among broadband providers. Both advocated exploring the reallocation of spectrum, but neither specified doing so with broadcast TV licenses.

The FCC has yet to provide details about its final proposal. A three-page outline was released in December. It suggested, among other items, an overhaul of the $7 billion Universal Service Fund, now used to subsidize rural phone service, to help pay for the broadband plan. The plan is coming primarily out of Chairman Genachowski’s office, and it’s not yet clear if the full commission will vote on it before it goes to Congress, which is not in session this week. Genachowski will appear Friday at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas for a grilling by CEA chief Gary Shapiro.

(Image by Angela)