The head of the FCC sees high-speed Internet as vital to our nation's growth and is looking for even higher speeds within the next 10 years.
Speaking before the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners (NARUC) on Tuesday, FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski discussed the need for broadband Internet and the impending National Broadband Plan, which the FCC is due to present to Congress next month. National broadband is a priority for the Obama administration, considered key to creating jobs, increasing investment, and improving access to education and health care.
Pointing out that the United States ranks far behind several other nations in Internet speeds, Genachowski revealed a major goal outlined in the broadband plan--to provide speeds of 100 megabits per second (Mbps) to 100 million households by 2020. He noted that other countries have already benefited economically from national broadband, citing one example in China.
"Look at Shenzhen, China," he said in his speech. "In the 1980s, it was a fishing center. Today, it is a city of 12 million that produces about 25 percent of the world's cell phones."
Using Google's recently proposed test of one gigabit per second speeds to the home as an example, the FCC chairman said others need to drive competition to deliver high-speed Internet to make the the U.S. competitive. He mentioned DOCSIS 3.0 and fiber as two technologies that bring high-speed Internet to consumers and businesses.
High-speed Internet is especially vital to job growth, according to Genachowski.
"Take, for example, small businesses, which have accounted for more than 22 million new American jobs over the last 15 years," he said. "Broadband allows small business to think big and grow bigger. With a high-speed Internet connection and the emergence of cloud computing, every small business can have access to a world class IT system and a national, indeed, global marketplace."
But the road to higher-speed Internet faces several challenges, according to Genachowski.
Many in the U.S. don't have broadband because they can't afford it, don't know how to use it, or aren't aware of its potential. Many who are unemployed don't have sufficient Internet access at the same time that a huge number of jobs are being posted online only.
A recent survey conducted by the Census Bureau found that 40 percent of the 129,000 people interviewed have no broadband Internet access. Though some said they simply don't want it, many said it was either too expensive or not available in their town.
Genachowski also pointed out the roadblocks to mobile broadband as the U.S. doesn't have enough spectrum to meet those needs.
But despite the challenges, Genachowski believes a goal should be set for every U.S. citizen to have sufficiently fast Internet access. He also said that we should strive to increase the percentage of people with broadband access from 65 percent, according to him, to 90 percent.
To work toward those goals, Genachowski said the broadband plan will recommend several ideas, including
- Free up a significant portion of spectrum in the years ahead for licensed and unlicensed use.
- Modernize the FCC's rural telemedicine program to connect thousands of additional clinics across the country.
- Improve the E-Rate program, which brings Internet to classrooms and libraries.
- Lower the cost of broadband build-out, both wired and wireless, by using government rights of way and conduits.
Genachowski acknowledged that the broadband plan is just a blueprint that can be revised. But he believes it's advancing a clear path that should be taken before the opportunity is lost.