McDowell noted that the plan’s recommendation to modernize the Universal Service Fund so that it supports broadband instead of regular telephone service would not do much good.
“Broadband deployment and adoption have flourished in the absence of such regulations. Not only do I doubt that such a reclassification would survive appeal, I don’t see how foisting a regulatory framework first devised in the 19th century would help a competitive 21st-century marketplace continue to thrive. But we will have plenty of time to engage in this debate,” he said.
He said he is also concerned with the recommendation to regulate fiber and other network elements.
“The plan implies that the Commission should mandate the unbundling of fiber and other network elements that have been deployed since the agency deregulated some of these components. As a result of that deregulation, fiber deployment has spiked in recent years,” he said. “Rather than reverse course, the Commission should ensure that any future actions will not create regulatory uncertainty and litigation risk that could scare away capital investment.”
About two-thirds of U.S. households have high-speed internet access now. Many people in the remaining one-third could get broadband service but choose not to, because they think it’s too expensive or because they don’t see a need for it. The FCC plan calls for increasing adoption rates to more than 90 percent of the population, in part by creating a Digital Literacy Corps to teach people how to use the internet.
When rural areas lack broadband access, it’s often because phone and cable companies haven’t found it worthwhile to invest in dragging high-speed lines to remote places that would have few subscribers. One way the FCC hopes to expand broadband use is with wireless technology.
The wireless industry currently licenses about 500 megahertz of the wireless spectrum. In a move similar to adding more lanes to a freeway, the FCC hopes to free up another 500 MHz over the next decade, both for licensed purposes and for uses that don’t require a license, such as Wi-Fi networks.
The agency hopes to get roughly 120 MHz of that spectrum from broadcasters of free, over-the-air TV. It would allow broadcasters to unload frequencies they don’t need and share in the proceeds raised by auctioning those airwaves to wireless companies.
That proposal has run into fierce resistance from the National Association of Broadcasters, however. TV broadcasters already gave up more than 100 MHz of spectrum when they shut off analog signals last year and began broadcasting only in digital. Many say they plan to use their remaining frequencies to transmit high-definition signals, to “multicast” multiple channels, and to deliver mobile TV to phones, laptops, and cars.
Early reactions to the plan from the large phone and cable companies that dominate the U.S. broadband market were positive. US Telecom, a trade group that represents phone companies, praised the FCC for recognizing that “it will be through private sector investment and innovation that America’s broadband deployment goals will be met.”