SAN FRANCISCO – The U.S. Federal Communications Commission has been under intense political and industry pressure ever since Congress directed the agency to come up with a National Broadband Plan to guide the modernization and expansion of broadband Internet access in the United States.
The White House is stepping in, though, to support the FCC plan and proceed with freeing up unused frequency spectrum for use in expanding wireless broadband.
President Barack Obama is expected to sign a Presidential Memorandum today that puts the political muscle of the White House behind the FCC broadband plan to free up spectrum for wireless broadband. The Presidential Memorandum will direct unused wireless spectrum owned by the federal government and some private sector companies to be auctioned off to nearly double the bandwidth available for wireless broadband over the next 10 years.
While businesses and residences in greater metropolitan areas in the United States have access to at least one form of high-speed broadband Internet, the country lags many other nations in the speed and availability of broadband Internet access–especially in more rural areas. The United States is also facing an impending lack of available wireless bandwidth with the explosion of smartphones and tablets all fighting for limited wireless broadband bandwidth.
When FCC chairman Julius Genachowski initially unveiled the plan to auction off portions of the wireless spectrum currently managed–but not used–by broadcast television networks, he stated “One thing is clear. It typically takes quite some time from the beginning to end of a Commission strategic spectrum reallocation process. But the clock is ticking on our country’s mobile broadband leadership opportunity and our global competitiveness challenge, and we have to get started.”
In the four months that have passed since then, the FCC has faced repeated obstacles and challenges from political opponents and industry efforts to maintain the status quo. Even when the FCC has inched forward by opening aspects of the National Broadband Plan for public comment and debate, the industry has responded with over the top press statements accusing the government agency of imposing its draconian will on the free enterprise.
Arguably, since Congress originally directed the FCC to examine the current state and future demands of broadband access in America with the National Broadband Plan, Congress should also explicitly and publicly support the effort to implement it, but what little support the FCC has received from Congress has been more tacit. In signing the Presidential Memorandum, the Obama administration puts its considerable political clout behind the FCC plan–although portions of the Presidential Memorandum will still require support from Congress.
White House economic advisor Lawrence Summers is expected to announce the details of the Presidential Memorandum later today. According to released excerpts, Summers will say “This initiative will catalyze private sector investment, contribute to economic growth, and help to create hundreds of thousands of jobs.”
Auctioning off unused spectrum will also generate revenue that can be used to fund other aspects of the National Broadband Plan–creating a win-win to move the broadband plan forward with minimal investment from taxpayers. Ultimately, businesses and consumers in the United States rely on broadband access and will benefit from the modernization and expansion of broadband.
(With additional material by Howard Solomon, Network World Canada)