FCC preparing national broadband plan

The Federal Communications Commission has launched a 13-month effort to develop a national broadband plan as required by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, the commission announced in a news release today.

The FCC must deliver the plan to Congress by Feb. 17, 2010, a schedule that overlaps with the deadlines for distributing stimulus broadband grants. Congress directed that economic stimulus funding of $7.2 billion for national broadband expansion is to be allocated starting in the current fiscal year and completed by September 2010.

But at least one policy expert believes the timing should not be a major concern because the FCC has recently upgraded its data for assessing the current status of broadband deployment throughout the nation, a critical factor which will help target the broadband grant funding to where it is most needed and avoid haphazard planning.

“The new data is a dramatic improvement,” said Chris Riley, policy counsel for Free Press, a nonprofit organization advocating national broadband. “Now they have information on how many subscribers there are to each speed of broadband in each census tract.”

The new data will help the Agriculture and Commerce departments distributing the grants maintain up-to-date information and avoid waste and mistargeted funding, he said. “They can be effective in distributing the broadband grants to the rural, undeserved areas,” Riley said.

The National Telecommunications and Information Administration and the USDA’s Rural Utilities Service are preparing to make broadband grant applications available. They held a series of public meetings in March to collect opinions on how to structure the broadband grant programs.

About the Author

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.

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