FCC Broadband Plan: 500 More MHz for Wireless

Google and other Web content giants, as well as technology companies from Microsoft to Motorola, however, have been aggressively pushing for such spectrum access.
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Labeling broadband access a vital service for economic growth akin to electricity, the The FCC has unveiled a summary of its long-awaited plan for the expansion of high-speed data access, and it includes massive dedication of RF spectrum to expand bring mobile wireless broadband.

The "America's Plan Executive Summary" of the report due to Congress march 17, immediately tags broadband as "the great infrastructure challenge of the early 20th century."

One big item: adding 500 MHz of spectrum available to wireless use within 10 years (and 300 MHz of that within five years).

How much is 500 MHz? By comparison, a Digital TV station uses 6 MHz, so the full range of Channels 2-51 takes up less than 300 MHz,

The National Association of Broadcasters is concerned that the plan calls for 124 MHz of television spectrum to be reallocated--in addition to 108 MHz vacated during the Digital TV transtion.

"We were pleased by initial indications from FCC members that any spectrum reallocation would be voluntary, and were therefore prepared to move forward in a constructive fashion on that basis," NAB Executive Vice President Dennis Wharton said. "However, we are concerned by reports today that suggest many aspects of the plan may in fact not be as voluntary as originally promised. Moreover, as the nation's only communications service that is free, local and ubiquitous, we would oppose any attempt to impose onerous new spectrum fees on broadcasters."

Over-the-air broadcasters have argued for years that broadband use of the "White Spaces" between TV channels could damage reception for the remaining viewers of free TV. Google and other Web content giants, as well as technology companies from Microsoft to Motorola, have been aggressively pushing for such spectrum access.

The main trade group for the cable industry was initially pleased with the plan while reserving its right to criticize once more details emerged.

 Google was ecstatic, promising that broadband would serve as an economic "catapault" for the nation and comparing the moment to the Space Race of the 1960s

It mentioned anew its plan to launch tests of "ultra-high speed broadband networks," delivering Internet speeds more than 100 times faster than what most Americans have access to today, or more than 1 Gbps. That could make Google, the world's largest advertising company, a key player in the content-delivery arena as well.

The plan is summarized in a series of principles: promoting competition, efficient allocation of assets, and a push for broadband in more sectors such as health and medicine.

It also calls for funding along the lines of the telephone Universal Service Fund to boost broadband development in underserved areas. Borrowing terminology from the telecom and cable giants, the FCC wants to call this mechanism the "Connect America Fund."

The plan acknowledges that the nation is behind many others in broadband speed, while costing more. But it stays away from the solution of most nations--allowing new entrants to lease connectivity from entrenched incumbents--instead promising access to other infrastructure such as poles on streets.

It also shies away from an explicit endorsement of Net Neutrality, the principle that ISPs must provide equal access to all content. More detail from the FCC is expected soon.

U.S. Rep. Ed Markey, D-Mass., former chairman of the House Subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet, called it a "visionary and far-reaching" plan thay "will unleash a tidal wave of new investment and innovation."

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