FCC Urges 20-Fold Internet Speed Increase in U.S. Broadband Plan

BY Jason Breslow  March 16, 2010 at 2:20 PM EDT

The Federal Communications Commission formally unveiled Tuesday a sweeping proposal to expand broadband Internet access across the U.S., a critical peg of the Obama administration’s efforts to boost the nation’s global competitiveness.

The FCC proposal calls for connecting some 100 million U.S. households to broadband connections with a speed of at least 100 megabits per second — about 20 times faster than the average home connection — by 2020. The plan, which Wired calls “a sort of Declaration of the Internet,” also seeks to establish even faster Web connections at public institutions, such as government buildings, hospitals and libraries.

While the U.S. has the most broadband subscribers of any nation, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, on a per capita basis it ranked 15th out of a recent survey of 30 countries.

Slightly less than two-thirds of American homes have access to high-speed Internet, FCC data show. And while close to eight in 10 adults use the Web, some 36 percent of adults cited cost as the main reason they have yet to adopt broadband.

“The stakes are huge, because the rest of the world isn’t standing still,” Julius Genachowski, chairman of the FCC, told the NewsHour’s Jeffrey Brown on Monday. “We are lagging behind globally when it comes to our broadband infrastructure, our high-speed Internet infrastructure, and its adoption.”

In an extended interview, Genachowski discussed the importance of broadband in education, health care and eliminating the “digital divide.” Watch it here:

Central to the FCC’s broadband blueprint is a plan to reclaim space on the nation’s airwaves currently controlled by television broadcasters and selling them to firms offering wireless Internet services. That’s good news for wireless providers such as AT&T and Verizon, but broadcasters are expected to push back.

In addition to resistance from the broadcasting industry, the $20 billion plan is likely to face challenges from broadcasters and some lawmakers over expanding regulation. As Rep. Cliff Stearns of Florida, the top Republican on the House Subcommittee on Communications, Technology and the Internet told the Washington Post, “I am concerned … that the plan may contain stalking horses for investment-killing ideas, such as so-called net neutrality mandates or a return to outdated, monopoly-era regulation.”