05/22/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

FCC Threads the Needle on Broadband

Last week, the FCC issued its long-awaited report on how to fulfill President Obama's goal of expanding affordable broadband. While parts of its 376 pages aren't exactly light reading (the section titled "Expanding Incentives and Mechanisms to Reallocate or Re-purpose Spectrum" comes to mind), overall it's pretty impressive. In fact, I see about four points that really encourage me.

First, there's no bait-and-switch. The report's emphasis really is on specific ways to bring broadband to those who don't have it. When it comes to broadband, let's agree that the best way - maybe the only way - to view this is by stripping away corporate posturing and lawyer-speak to understand what's really at stake: the ability of people to use the Internet to improve themselves and their communities.

Look at some of the plan's

  • Programs to help low-income Americans who need to better understanding the value of broadband, or how to use computers or navigate the Internet;
  • Better use of wireless spectrum so that more people, especially those in underserved areas without wired connections, can have high-speed Internet access;
  • New rules to speed up and reduce the cost of Internet deployment; and
  • The expansion of existing programs that would allow subsidies for low-income Americans to receive broadband.
They're all pretty common-sense solutions to today's challenges. Good for the FCC. Second, the plan recognizes that getting people signed up involves more than just technology. I really like the idea of a National Digital Literacy Corps that trains people to go into communities and teach the basics of Internet and help people to better understand the value proposition that broadband has to offer them. I have often said that changing the value proposition of broadband for minorities, especially minority youth, is the key to increased adoption. There are many examples of how broadband can provide value right now: it can help a young mother in Detroit get her GED to create a better life; it can aid the unemployed union worker learn a new trade online and better provide for his family; and it can give the 60-something grandmother who's never used a computer a new opportunity to stay in touch with her family across the country. I could go on, but the point is that there is real life value to using the multitude of online tools that are already available to us today. And it's critical that we help the people who could benefit the most from this technology to become more interested and aware about the ways to reap the benefits of broadband. This type of national awareness and empowerment campaign is a terrific idea. Third, this plan has a real-world focus. Probably the best parts of the report deal with the specific ways broadband will improve our lives. The plan has clear, almost futuristic detail on what broadband means for us. Start with jobs and economic growth - probably the single most important issue in the country now. Today's entrepreneurs can't grow an effective business and generate jobs without high-speed Internet access, which offers low barriers to entry. But the plan also covers online education to help the unemployed or underemployed, improved energy efficiency and better healthcare at less cost.

On that last point, a nursing home can cost $200 a day. But a wireless health monitoring system for someone living independently costs half that much per month. Do the math.

Fourth, there's a clear marker on disclosure and openness. The Internet today is as free and open as it's been for the past two decades but let's be clear: It has to remain that way. People must continue to be able to access the sites they want, and use the devices they want in accessing the Internet. We may agree to disagree on how to best accomplish methods of transparency and consumer protection, but we should all agree that the goal of the FCC to maintain the Internet as it is today is a good principle to which we can all ascribe.

The National Broadband Plan sets out a lofty framework and set of ideals for perfecting a universal system of broadband access for all Americans. We all know the devil is in the details though, and we can only hope that in the subsequent rule makings and attempts at implementation and enforcement that follow the release of this plan that the FCC will remain ever vigilant in its objective of creating broadband opportunities for all Americans at fair and affordable rates