American Gothic, broadband version

We’re back at world headquarters outside Washington, just in time for the FCC national broadband plan. It’s a big deal in this capital city where so many good intentions are stuck in the muck of politics and the mire of control. This is the swamp where FCC touts its plan as nothing less as a way to keep the U.S. competitive. Which ought to put the plan into the same category as health-care reform now that it goes to Congress.

Fifty years ago, the memo that launched the space program and put man on the moon contained just a few, clear paragraphs. The FCC’s plan is 376 pages – and that’s just the beta. There’s a story here about how the adoption of public policy hasn’t kept pace with a global, always-on world. American cities lag far behind their counterparts in Asia, Scandanavia – even eastern Slovakia – places where broadband is faster, cheaper and more widely accessible. Many of the FCC’s recommendations will require Congressional action — and beyond politics and murky matters of jurisdiction — would likely take years to put in place, if at all.

At We Media Miami last week, FCC Managing Director Steve VanRoekel gave us a glimpse of a government that is moving toward eDemocracy and wired capitalism. Accordingly, the FCC plan acknowledges that broadband Internet is becoming the common medium for government, business and life in the U.S. The plan broadly seeks a 90 percent broadband adoption rate in the United States by 2020, up from roughly 65 percent.

One way to react to the plan: consider how the companies that control broadband in the U.S. respond. So far, big Internet providers have been receptive, but they warn (of course) that government regulation could impede their abilities to expand their networks. Many of the plans will benefit wireless carriers, including AT&T, Verizon Wireless, Sprint and T-Mobile USA. The FCC said it wants 500 MHz of spectrum to be available in 10 years with 300 MHz coming within five. Proposals will probably face resistance from other telecom giants, which over time will face new competition for customers. The broadcast television industry is already resisting efforts to auction off some of its spectrum so that it can be redirected toward mobile Internet technologies.

It’s hard to imagine that the companies that currently own spectrum would willingly give it up to stimulate competition for an asset they think they already own. Let the games begin.

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