The Federal Communications Commission is gearing up for public hearings on the development of a national broadband plan as mandated by the U.S. Congress under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.
Earlier this week, the FCC announced the appointment of several senior staffers who will create the commission's recommendations to Congress. And on Thursday the FCC will hold its first staff workshop on the new initiative, at the end of which the public will be able to participate in an open-mike session.
"Broadband is our generation's major infrastructure challenge and it is a top priority to craft a national broadband plan that will unlock opportunity, foster innovation and investment, and improve the lives of all Americans," said FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski. "The effort to focus dialog on specific topics in an open, participatory format is one of the many ways the commission is trying to develop a comprehensive and meaningful record for the development of the plan."
A Personal Commitment
The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act calls upon the FCC to submit a national broadband plan to Congress by Feb. 17 that addresses broadband deployment, adoption, affordability and the use of broadband to advance solutions to national priorities, including health care, education, energy efficiency, and public safety. Though there are no easy answers, the statute is clear about what the FCC's goals must be, Genachowski said.
"We must find ways to ensure that all people of the United States have access to broadband [and] we must devise a detailed strategy to ensure affordability of broadband," Genachowski said. "We must evaluate the nation's deployment of broadband, including via federal grants, and we must ensure that our broadband infrastructure and services advance national purposes."
Though the public debate on these issues begins Thursday, there will be plenty of other opportunities for interested parties to become involved, noted FCC Press Secretary Jen Howard. "We have scheduled 22 staff-run workshops for August and September that are open to the public," Howard said. "You can view them at broadband.gov."
Not The Time For Half-Measures
Beyond the public hearings, Genachowski also will be playing a highly visible role in personally promoting major changes to the nation's broadband infrastructure. On Monday, the FCC chairman toured the Lucile Packard Children's Hospital at Stanford University in Palo Alto, Calif., in the company of U.S. Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.) to see how broadband communications and new technologies can revolutionize the care of patients while reducing costs.
Among other things, doctors at the hospital demonstrated how broadband technologies can be used to deliver surgical advancements in operating rooms. Genachowski also saw how echocardiograms can be sent from remote locations to enable medical workers to quickly determine the severity of a newborn's heart condition.
Still, as compelling as such technologies may be for health care, it's clear that Genachowski puts job creation and economic growth at the top of the list when it comes to the nation's priorities.
"It's critical that all stakeholders provide the commission with the information it needs to develop a national broadband plan that will spur innovation, promote competition, create jobs, and bring the powerful benefits of broadband to all Americans," Genachowski said. "The sad reality is that we are slipping behind as a nation when it comes to broadband -- homes and businesses in many other countries have faster connections for lower prices."