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FCC Asks for More Time on Broadband Plan

The Federal Communications Commission is planning to miss its Feb. 17 deadline for presenting a nationwide broadband plan to Congress. The agency is asking for a one-month extension, published reports indicate. News of the probable request emerged yesterday 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.)

An official from FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski’s office confirmed the request today in The Wall Street Journal.

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.