Page last updated at 20:37 GMT, Tuesday, 16 March 2010

Broadband plan for high speed internet sent to Congress

By Maggie Shiels
Technology reporter, BBC News, Silicon Valley

Fibre optic cable (file image)
The US ranks 15th in the world for providing access to high-speed internet

A plan to help the US lead the world in providing its citizens with super-fast internet has been officially released.

The Federal Communications Commission, FCC, aims to ensure every American in the country has broadband connections by 2020.

It claims a third of all US households - 100 million Americans - do not have a broadband connection.

Congress will now consider whether to introduce legislation to enact some parts of the 360-page plan.

Some of the 200 recommendations will be decided on by other government agencies such at the Federal Trades Commission and Homeland Security department.

The FCC's five commissioners did not vote to approve the document because not all agree on its recommendations.

Instead they gave their backing to a statement of support for some of the plan's goals. These include ensuring every American has access to affordable high-speed internet and shifting airwaves to mobile services.

"We finally have a clear objective and a considered strategy aimed at ensuring that everyone in this country has equal opportunities in this new Digital Age, no matter who they are, where they live, or the particular circumstances of their individual lives," said Michael Copps, a Democratic FCC commissioner.

'Critical question'

The broadband plan comes at a time when the internet is playing an increasing role in the lives of individuals, businesses and government.

The FCC has called this the "greatest infrastructure challenge of the 21st century" and said it represents a "foundation for economic growth, job creation, global competitiveness and a better way of life".

Broadband subscribers, BBC
Wide differences in broadband access are revealed by statistics

The plan aims to increase internet speeds from the average 4 mbps (megabits per second) to 100mbps.

One thorny issue will be the cost of implementing the plan which has been estimated at $350bn (£231bn). Who will pay and how much will undoubtedly be fiercely debated.

"It is an important question, but I think the critical question we have to ask is what is the cost of doing nothing?" said Dean Garfield, the chief executive officer of the Information Technology Industry Council.

"We have to ask where do we want to be globally? The internet, and broadband by extension, can lay the foundation for the growth of a brand new economy and the public sector can't do this alone. The private sector, and really the country in general, needs to be a part of this," Mr Garfield told BBC News.

'Opportunity'

Another issue that is likely to result in a major fight is how the FCC will wrest spectrum from TV companies to wireless carriers.

Mobile companies like AT&T and Verizon have said they will need more spectrum in future to provide super-fast, reliable internet connections to every customer. The problem is that most of the spectrum is occupied by someone else.

Republican FCC commissioner Robert McDowell has called for the commission to encourage broadcasters to lease their spectrum to broadband providers rather than using "coercive" action.

The Centre for Democracy and Technology, CDT, is also gearing itself up for a tough time ahead to ensure that strong privacy rules are weaved into everything the plan enacts.

"We have a real opportunity here because so far we have had this patchwork of privacy rules and regulations that don't work as well as we need them to," said Leslie Harris of CDT.

"WE don't have the comprehensive privacy framework you see in Europe. We have old rules that apply to government and how government uses information and laws that have been outstripped by technological advances.

"The more people are connected to the network the greater the potential for data being collected and misused," Ms Harris told the BBC.



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