Moving broadband forward

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Transparent, nonpartisan, and thoughtful are words rarely used to describe Washington these days, but they adequately convey the process in which the FCC drafted the recently unveiled National Broadband Plan. Healthy debate and public input were welcomed for over a year as the strategy was thoroughly thought through, and the result is an ambitious Plan that sets laudable goals for greater broadband availability, adoption, and speed.

The Internet Innovation Alliance has been advocating for universal broadband, competition and innovation since its inception over six years ago so that every American, regardless of demographic or location, can harness the benefits of the Internet. We applaud the FCC for the collaboration between public and private sectors that defined this effort.

In July 2008, the IIA was first out of the gate calling for a National Broadband Strategy, and much of what we’ve pushed for is seen in the Plan: policies that ensure robust competition to maximize investment and decrease consumer costs; leveraging government’s outsized role in critical sectors that could benefit from broadband, such as our energy, educational and health care systems; repurposing Universal Service Funds to help advance the deployment of broadband infrastructure. These goals all play a role in the ultimate national objective of 100 percent broadband availability and adoption.

The National Broadband Plan highlights a decade of success and innovation in Internet technology. Relatively minimal regulation has helped achieve great advances in Internet technology and has brought broadband access to 95% of all Americans. Over the past decade, the cable and telecommunications industry has invested more than $165 billion in infrastructure and upgrades. The NTIA reports that broadband adoption has expanded to 63.5 percent of U.S. households as of October 2009, up from just 4.4 percent in 2000.

There is more to be done. Thirty-five percent of Americans still have not adopted broadband due to digital illiteracy, lack of resources or failure to appreciate the value and benefits. Too often, the slow adopters are those for whom broadband can make the biggest difference.

Policies implemented through the Plan must first and foremost continue to encourage the robust investment, estimated at as much as $350 billion, needed to carry out the ambitious goals outlined, including 90 percent broadband adoption and 100 megabits per second speeds by 2020. Aside from the $7 billion for broadband infrastructure included in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, the majority of this investment will need to come from the private sector. The FCC should look to encourage these investments by eliminating regulatory obstacles to deployment and providing tax credits for meaningful upgrades to network speeds and capacity.

In today’s economic climate, the Internet is the great equalizer and enabler–those not online are at the greatest disadvantage. By continuing the transparent, nonpartisan and thoughtful manner in which the FCC approached creating the National Broadband Plan, we are confident that the public and private sectors can work together to secure the benefits of broadband for all Americans.

Bruce Mehlman and David Sutphen are co-chairmen of the Internet Innovation Alliance.