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Published: Tuesday, 3/16/2010

FCC: Get broadband to everyone


WASHINGTON - The Federal Communications Commission yesterday announced its plan to bring broadband Internet connections to every home and business in America, part of an ambitious multibillion-dollar attempt to create a new digital infrastructure for the nation's economy.

The national broadband plan outlines dozens of policy recommendations aimed at raising the percentage of people with high-speed Internet connections to 90 percent from the current 65 percent over the next decade. It would significantly increase the connection speeds of homes that already have such service.

Mandated by last year's stimulus legislation, the plan will be presented to Congress today and is expected to set the FCC's agenda for years. It would move the FCC into the age of the Internet, creating a federal mandate for installing thousands of miles of fiber-optic cable and erecting countless new cellphone towers.

Many of the FCC's proposals are short on details, however, and lawmakers and the agency can decide to take or reject any number of the ideas.

"The real test begins now, and the final grade will depend on the commission's execution of future proceedings that will be required to transform the national broadband plan into reality," said Andrew Schwartzman, president of Media Access Project, a public interest group.

The proposal drew praise from some industry leaders and public interest groups who said the plan could introduce more competition into the market for broadband services and help bridge a divide that has excluded low-income and rural residents from the Web.

But analysts and telecommunications scholars said carrying out the dozens of recommendations will be a long slog, particularly if firms argue that new regulations will hurt investments and jobs.

Midsized broadband providers are shaping up to be the plan's biggest beneficiaries, gaining access to subscribers and the rights to federal funds to expand networks.

Makers of network equipment, such as Cisco, and creators of Web-based content, such as Google, also could see significant boosts in their business.

Cell phone carriers could reap big gains from a proposal to allocate a large chunk of airwaves for the next generation of smartphones and portable devices.

While major broadband providers such as AT&T, Comcast, and Verizon Communications would gain broader subscriber bases, they also could be forced to share their wireless and fixed-wire networks with smaller rivals.

The plan could hurt broadcasters, who are being asked to give up the airwaves destined for wireless broadband use.

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