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FCC’s Broadband Plan would put United States in the second tier of nations

The FCC’s new National Broadband Plan sets only modest goals for the United States at 4Mb/s universal service by 2020. This has members of Congress asking questions about the competitive goals for U.S. broadband service and how it compares to other countries.

Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-HI, chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, challenged FCC chairman Julius Genachowski about the goals of the plan.

“The National Broadband Plan (NBP) proposes a goal of having 100 million homes subscribed at 100Mb/s by 2020,” he wrote, “while the leading nations already have 100Mb/s fiber-based services at costs of $30 to $40 per month and beginning rollout of 1Gb/s residential services, which the FCC suggests is required only for a single anchor institution in each community by 2020.

This appears to suggest that the United States should accept a 10- to 12-year lag behind the leading nations. What is the FCC’s rationale for a vision that appears to be firmly rooted in the second tier of countries?” Inouye asked.

Sen. Mark Begich, D-AK, also questioned the goal. “Why did the plan settle on the download speed of 4MB by 2020? It seems a bit modest for a goal.”

Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-ND, wants to know why urban areas are targeted with 100Mb/s connections while rural areas look likely to end up with the minimum 4Mb/s. “How will you structure the policies to meet these goals in a way that doesn’t exacerbate the existing digital divide?”

Genachowski recently submitted answers to these questions. “The plan’s targets of 4Mb/s download and 1Mb/s upload [are] aggressive. It is one of the highest universalization targets of any country in the world. Many nations, such as South Korea and Finland, adopted short-term download targets around 1Mb/s,” Genachowski wrote.

“The plan recommends reevaluating the 4Mb/s target every year so this target may rise over time, which will ensure that Americans continue to receive high-quality broadband access at an affordable rate, and that consumers in rural areas will continue to receive broadband service that is reasonably comparable to the service provided in urban areas.”