05/01/2010 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

How a National Broadband Plan Will Be The Next Public Works

The National Broadband Plan has been a project that the Federal Communications Commission has been charged with since early 2009. The plan is designed to address the lack of broadband availability not only throughout the United States but in underserved and economically depressed areas. The full report will be presented to Congress on March 17th. Fortunately, over the past few weeks the FCC has begun sharing certain details with the public.

The FCC has release a preliminary 56 page document -- National Broadband Plan: National Purposes Updated. This paper outlines in some detail to what the FCC will be presenting to Congress. I believe that what Genachowski has presented, so far, is rather ambitious and long past due.

It would appear that the FCC is addressing six verticals --  1. healthcare, 2. education, 3. energy and the environment, 4. government performance and civic engagement, 5. public safety and homeland security and 6. economic opportunity. The FCC envisions a broadband infrastructure that will be a platform for innovation for both civic services and private sector investments. Let's take a look at one of the most highly contested markets in our country today -- healthcare. The FCC explains that "E-care" could result in a considerable savings

$700 billion in potential net savings over 15 - 25 years

This cost savings will come from the implementation of electronic health records and remote monitoring -- for conditions such as diabetes and skin disease. The use of broadband technologies will allow for the transmission of this data back to a medical professional. Potentially, patients and medical professionals will not be limited by geographic barriers, health care costs or the gaps in insurance coverage. In its report, the FCC does explain that there will need to be incentives to promote E-care adoption.

I believe one of the most critical areas of concern is education. Broadband adoption in this area should be considered a national imperative. The FCC explains broadband proliferation in education:

As a platform for information exchange, broadband helps personalize instruction so students learn more.

The FCC seems to be strongly recommending online learning. They want to see an increase in digital content availability, the support of digital literacy and the removal of regulatory barriers. It is also recommended that the FCC continue and improve upon the E-Rate program. This is a program that subsidizes Internet connections for libraries and schools.

Digital literacy will be the most substantial hurdle. This mainly affects underserved communities as well as the economically depressed. Efforts need to be made to encourage and subsidize programs that teach digital literacy.

According to Susannah Fox of Pew Internet -- adults who do not have broadband at home fall into four categories:
  1. Digitally Distant: 10% of the general population. Median age is 63. Half say that the internet is not relevant to their lives or they lack the digital literacy to adopt broadband.
  2. Digital Hopefuls: 8% of the general population. Low-income, heavily Hispanic and African American. Likely to say they want to go online, but lack the resources.
  3. Digitally Uncomfortable: 7% of the general population. Likely to own a computer, but lack skills and interest in taking advantage of all the internet has to offer.
  4. Near Converts: 10% of the general population. Median age is 45. Cost is the biggest barrier to having broadband at home.
In reading through the National Broadband Plan I am happy with what the FCC is proposing to Congress. As March 17th grows closer -- I am sure we will be reading more about the FCC's broadband plans so please stay tuned.