FCC Outlines Plan To Expand Internet Access

The FCC wants the government to offer free or cheap broadband to help spread high-speed Internet access to the 93 million Americans without it.

That recommendation, among others, was announced yesterday (pdf) at the agency's Digital Inclusion Summit in D.C. and is a part of the FCC's National Broadband Plan, which it will submit to Congress next Wednesday.

The agency has been sharing portions of the plan over the past month or so. A few weeks ago, The Wall Street Journal reported that the FCC was "calling for faster broadband speeds to schools and technology to allow consumers to monitor their electricity usage at home via the Internet." Around that time, FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski said that 100 million U.S. households should have Internet access ten times faster than current speeds by 2020.

The number of Americans online grew nearly threefold from 85 million to 231 million between 1998 and 2008, according to an interactive feature from the BBC, which is currently running a series of (really interesting) reports about the Internet.

In addition to recommending that the government provide cheap or free wireless Internet access, the FCC will also recommend it create a Digital Literacy Corps, a group tasked with providing skills training and reaching out to communities with low broadband adoption rates. An FCC survey shows that key barriers to broadband adoption include price, lack of skills and a lacking understanding of the benefits of high-speed access.

Debate has already begun over the proposal to offer the cheap or free wireless broadband, which would involve taking back at least some of the privately owned TV spectrum. Paul Karpowicz, who owns some of those unused airwaves, told BusinessWeek he won't voluntarily give them up. He's also a member of the executive committee of the National Association of Broadcasters, which opposes the FCC's plan.

Wall Street Journal editorial writer Holman W. Jenkins Jr. argues against the plan because, he says, the FCC has a history of restricting rather than facilitating technological growth:

Ask the media bankers and investors at a recent FCC roundtable. To a man and woman, they said the FCC's stringent ownership rules have only cut broadcasters off from the capital to remake their businesses for the digital age.

Regardless, the plan is still just a plan, as Investor's Business Daily points out:

The FCC likely will ask Congress to pass some new laws. The FCC also will attempt to carry out many plan recommendations on its own, a rule-making process that often takes 12 to 18 months.