At a Senate Commerce Committee hearing last week, Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Julius Genachowski testified that the FCC’s recently unveiled National Broadband Plan is critical to bridging the digital divide that disproportionately affects rural communities, low-income families, minorities, seniors, tribal communities, and Americans with disabilities.
Comparing broadband to other transformative technology innovations, Genachowski called it “the 21st century equivalent of what canals, railroads, highways, the telephone, and electricity were for previous generations” because of its crucial role in job growth, education, and public safety.
According to Genachowski, the plan lays out a “roadmap to tackle vital inclusion challenges, so that everyone, everywhere can enjoy the benefits of broadband.”
Currently, the average broadband speed in the U.S. is about four megabits per second, placing the U.S. 18th in the world for broadband speeds. The FCC plans to increase affordable broadband speeds to 100 megabits per second to 100 million households, increase broadband speed to one gigabit for at least one library, school, or other public anchor institution in every community. The plan also calls for the U.S. to lead the world in mobile innovation, with the fastest and most extensive wireless networks.
Genachowski’s testimony follows a recent D.C. Circuit decision that challenged the FCC’s authority to carry out many of the most important aspects of the national broadband plan.
Free Press, a public interest media reform group, has stated that the jurisdictional crisis stems from past FCC decisions to classify broadband networks as an “integrated information service.” Free Press is calling on the agency to reclassify broadband as a telecommunications service to give the National Broadband Plan firm legal footing.
“I believe that the Communications Act – as amended in 1996 – enables the Commission to reform universal service to connect everyone to broadband communications, and I can assure the Committee that our actions will be rooted in a sound legal foundation, designed to promote investment, innovation, competition, and consumer interests” said Genachowski.