The Monitor's View

FCC broadband plan: It must spur competition

The FCC broadband plan to bring fast Internet service to all American households must encourage competition to bring down prices, improve service, and increase accessibility.

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The Obama administration wants to make sure all Americans have access to broadband Internet service.

In mid-March, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) will present its plan to Congress to make speedy broadband Internet service affordable and accessible. About a third of American households – 93 million people – don’t have high-speed Internet at home.

(For Monitor coverage of the FCC's proposed plan, click here)

The administration sees this as a matter of national competitiveness. If people don’t have a zippy Web connection, they may miss out on job, education, and business opportunities. Not to mention government services and, the FCC maintains, better healthcare and energy efficiencies.

So the FCC’s plan – details forthcoming – sets a goal: Broadband should run at a minimum of 100 megabits per second (about 10 times faster than current speeds) and should reach 100 million homes by 2020 (that’s almost all US households). The agency estimates it could take $350 billion to get there.

On an issue this critical to America’s economy, the government is right to set a goal. But the job is far too costly for the feds to tackle alone, and not necessarily best handled by Washington.

Multiple roadblocks stand in the way of wider broadband adoption. They illustrate how hard it would be for the federal government to remove them.

Based on a national survey, the FCC reports that 36 percent of Americans who don’t subscribe to broadband cite cost factors. About a fifth don’t understand the technology and have concerns about privacy and content. Another fifth say they have no interest. Only 4 percent said broadband isn’t available.

So what should the FCC’s role be? Primarily, to encourage competition so that prices come down and service and speed improve. And, in a business where wireless connectivity is the rage, to make sure spectrum is available. It must also provide incentives for companies to connect to remote, rural areas.

FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski has said the need is to “unleash investment, promote innovation, promote competition.” His plan must do that.

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