Speed, Accessibility Top Aims Of FCC Broadband Plan

On March 17, the FCC will unveil its National Broadband Plan to Congress and articulate its view that the so-called digital divide is also an opportunity divide, and therefore is something that must be addressed.

Solution providers are well aware of the domestic digital divide, which tends to affect rural areas where carriers haven't see fit to extend network connectivity due to the costs involved and the perceived difficulty in getting a return on these investments.

"The issue has always been that these areas are beyond 15,000 feet or more from central offices -- we have the worst buildout in the poorest parts of the cities," said Gary Berzack, CTO and COO of eTribeca LLC, a New York City-based wireless solution provider. "In my opinion, in places where large carriers have failed to deliver, they should bring in smaller carriers and ISPs and pay them to manage the service."

According to the Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development, national broadband penetration is proceeding slowly. From June 2008 to June 2009, there was only a 2.2 percent increase per 100 residents. Berzack said this initiative is something he would love to spearhead, but he has been frustrated by the lack of resources.

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Apart from tackling the issue of making the Internet itself more accessible, the other main goal of the FCC plan is to boost existing Internet connectivity speeds.

FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski said he wants ISPs to offer a minimum connection speed of 100 megabits per second by 2020. Google, meanwhile, is building and testing broadband networks in various parts of the country that feature speeds of one gigabit per second.

However, price, not speed, is actually the main obstacle, according to Berzack. For example, the jump in speed from 33.6k modems to one megabit DSL that took place in the late 1990s shows how quickly speeds can ramp up, he said.

"We're talking about a 15-fold increase, which was doable from the '80s and '90s," Berzack said. "I think the cost needs to be at $40 or lower, with all services and anywhere in the U.S. We have to find some subsidized model that will work."

According to the FCC, the average monthly fee for broadband Internet access is $40.68. Customers who opt for a bundle package that includes phone and/or cable service, however, pay slightly lower every month at $37.70.