Federal Communications Commission

National Broadband Plan Category

Connecting America’s Stories: Public Safety

May 12th, 2010 by Page Schindler Buchanan

The effort to manage the oil spill hitting the Gulf Coast is just one more reminder of how critical the recommendations in the National Broadband Plan are for ensuring public safety.  The gulf coast states have built a communications network to help their safety and cleanup operations talk to one another – a problem that has plagued emergency responders for years – quite memorably during both Hurricane Katrina and September 11th. Around the country people are using broadband technology in new and creative ways to help keep their communities safe and informed. 

Peggy is a farmer in Deming, Washington.

We've recently started a CERT (Community Emergency Response Team) that disseminates information (flood warnings, announcements for emergency training sessions, and alerts about at-large criminals, sex-offender re-locations, etc.) Without this email-tree, we would all be in the dark, cut off from training that could save lives, and at higher risk to danger.

In this video authors of the plan look at how communications technology can be better designed to make Americans safer.

Jennifer Manner, lead for the Public Safety and Homeland Security chapter of the Broadband Plan, focused on the need to get all of the country’s public safety agencies on the same frequency – literally. 

One of the challenges has been that the networks are very fragmented, so emergency responders aren’t often able to talk to one another across jurisdictions, or across geographies… if you remember during Katrina this was a big problem, during 9-11 this was another big problem. …

[One of our proposals is] an Emergency Reliability and Interoperability Center (ERIC) – we wanted the system to be interoperable – we wanted the officer in New York to be able to go to California to help out and be able to use his device there. 

In addition, the Broadband Plan looks at ways for citizens to get information more quickly and efficiently.  Jennifer also talks about the great potential for activating citizens in emergencies.

If you think about the Amber Alerts that we have today, wouldn’t it be more effective if they could actually show you the face of the child who is missing, or the picture of the car in a real time basis?

Check out the Action Agenda for the next steps the FCC is taking to make these and other changes to support public safety in America a reality, and keep sharing your stories of how broadband access helps you and your community stay safe.

Connecting America’s Stories: Broadband Availability

May 10th, 2010 by Page Schindler Buchanan

Goal #1 of the National Broadband Plan is that 100 million U.S. Homes will have affordable access to actual download speeds of at least 100 megabits per second and actual upload speeds of at least 50 megabits per second.

What do these numbers mean to you? Email that doesn’t take all day to send.  Sharing photos with friends.  Working from home instead of a long commute.  Getting your degree while supporting your family.  Not letting an illness keep you isolated from work and family.  You told us this, and so much more.

Maria is a college professor and mother in rural York, New York:

Four-tenths of a mile down the road residents have access to cable. When I contacted [the local internet provider] I received a letter stating that in order to have cable run to our home we would have to pay them $5,000 (in addition to monthly fees).

Residents four-tenths of a mile down the road have cable television, wireless Internet and all of the benefits that go along with it--they can watch movies from their PCs, they can upload games wirelessly, watch educational videos for free on with their children, share home movies with family across the country. Four-tenths of a mile down the road, residents did not have to pay anything to have cable run to their homes. Four-tenths of a mile down the road moms have the option to work from home with their high-speed Internet without the cost and stress of enrolling their children in daycare.

Maria’s frustration is echoed in the stories many of you have sent us.  Spotty, slow and non-existent internet connections have deep economic, social and personal consequences that may well shape the future of our nation.

In this video leaders on the National Broadband Plan team talk about increasing availability of broadband to all Americans.

Carol Mattey worked on the Universal Service Recommendations in the Broadband Plan:

Our current regulatory policies in this area are broken.  They needed to be fixed.  The system has accomplished a great deal over the years, but it is not suited and is not going to bring broadband to all of America.

We brought in perspectives from industry and academia, and actual users and participants… We really were focused on trying to develop facts and information, which ultimately are the foundation of making good decisions.

The result is a set of recommendations that will help people find creative solutions to the unique issues in their communities, such as:

Helping schools, hospitals, local communities and Tribal lands afford the infrastructure they need to set up broadband, and share it with businesses and neighbors.

Helping local governments set up broadband in areas where private business can’t make a profit.

Changing the way that companies charge to connect people across the country.

To find out more about how the National Broadband Plan can help to increase broadband availability, read more here, and share your stories on how broadband has impacted you and your community.


Updating a Critical Lifeline

May 10th, 2010 by Irene Flannery - Acting Associate Chief, Wireline Competition Bureau

Support for low-income consumers to enable access to telecommunications has long been a priority for states as well as the federal government, and the FCC has worked in tandem with the states to ensure that support is available to all those who are eligible.  So it is appropriate that we ask our partners in the states for their input now, given the tremendous changes to telecommunications that are shaping the way we assist low-income consumers through our Lifeline and Link Up programs.  By way of background, since 1984, Lifeline has helped offset the cost of a monthly phone bill, and Link Up has helped offset telephone installation costs, for low-income consumers.  The concept behind these programs, which are part of the FCC’s universal service programs, is that all Americans need access to telecommunications – a concept that the National Broadband Plan recently recommended be updated to include broadband.

One change to the telecommunications marketplace is the increasing availability of alternatives to traditional wireline phone service, including wireless and cable services.  This change has lead to a rapidly expanding universe of carriers participating in the Lifeline and Link Up programs, with the result being that low-income consumers have more options to meet their communications needs.  With greater participation in the low-income programs, it is a good time to revisit the programs with our state partners to ensure that the programs are effectively reaching eligible consumers, and that our oversight continues to be appropriately structured to minimize waste, fraud, and abuse.

Another change is that broadband has become an essential mode of communication for many Americans in the last decade – it is an essential tool for jobs, education, information, and entertainment. The National Broadband Plan recommended that we expand the Lifeline and Link Up programs to make broadband more affordable for low-income households.  We are asking our state partners for their input so that we can benefit from their experience and viewpoints.

In the FCC world, the mechanism for seeking state input is to seek guidance through an entity called the Federal-State Joint Board on Universal Service, otherwise known as the Joint Board, which we did through the order hyperlinked above.  We look forward to the Joint Board’s input in helping our universal service programs keep pace with technology.

A Third-Way Legal Framework For Addressing The Comcast Dilemma

May 6th, 2010 by Austin Schlick - General Counsel

When the D.C. Circuit issued its opinion in the Comcast/BitTorrent case, it was clear the decision could affect a significant number of important recommendations in the National Broadband Plan, the Commission’s Open Internet proceeding, and other policy initiatives related to broadband.  In light of the uncertainty created by the decision, the Chairman asked me to investigate all of the options available to the Commission.  Other FCC staff and I have developed a proposal that we believe resolves the doubt created by the D.C. Circuit’s opinion while providing a firm legal basis for the Commission’s limited, but vital role with respect to broadband.  Whether, all things considered, the legal response to Comcast sketched out in our proposal is the best one for the Commission to adopt would be for the five FCC Commissioners to answer after public comment and private study.  In my judgment, it’s a question worth asking.

Read more about the proposal here.

Read Chairman Genachowski’s statement discussing his reasons for seeking comment on the proposal here.

Connecting America’s Stories: The Current State of the Broadband Ecosystem

April 30th, 2010 by Page Schindler Buchanan

When Congress passed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act last February, it tasked the FCC with creating a plan to expand broadband access to Americans.  The first step was to ask Americans about the role of broadband Internet access in their daily lives – at home, at school, and at work.

Who had it, who didn’t?  Who used it, who didn’t?  How do they use it? And perhaps most importantly… Why?

This research showed clear themes, and a complex problem.  Some consumers lament an inability to afford service and lack of access in their community.  Others are confused by complicated offerings from service providers.  And many simply do not know how to use a computer or understand how the internet would be useful in their lives.


John Horrigan is the Director of Consumer Research.

I fielded a survey of 5000 Americans on their broadband usage patterns and looking at the reasons why people don’t have broadband…it goes into two big categories: cost and getting people trained and comfortable with using the internet. 

We found about a third of Americans did not have broadband at home, and the leading reasons were cost, digital literacy and a perceived lack of relevance to people about whether this gadget, this tool, the internet, is useful to them. 

Broadband Adoption by American Adults by Socio-Economic and Demographic Factors


At America's Digital Inclusion Summit on March 9, 2010, stories from everyday Americans illustrated how a lack of Internet access can exclude people from jobs, adequate education, family connections, and in no small way, deprive them of full ability to pursue the American dream in a knowledge-driven global economy.

One mother, Rhonda Locklear, a housing specialist with the Lumbee Tribe in Pembroke, North Carolina talked about the difficulties her family and tribe face due to a lack of access to affordable, reliable broadband service.

Like most families across the state who either don’t have access to high speed internet, or who can’t afford it, we were stuck with dial-up service in our home until two months ago.  I feel that this has put my family, my sons in particular, at a severe disadvantage.  …

Seemingly easy [school] assignments took him hours to complete.  Isaac got very upset, discouraged and frustrated because he could not do what he needed to do.  As a mother, it breaks my heart and causes me to feel that I have failed him in some way.

Peter Bowen, Applications Director, researched how people are using and experiencing the internet, at home, at work and through mobile devices.  In addition to finding out how people are using their broadband connections, his research led him to focus on ensuring transparency in the buying process for consumers.

Broadband is very confusing. You can imagine a day where you go online and you go to a consumer-reports-type website… and there’s literally:  ‘Here are the five services you can get in your area, by all the different providers that are there, the prices they’re offering’…. some service providers are going to be better at certain things than others. 

What we really need to do is help consumers understand the differences in broadband, and then help promote competition by allowing them to look at it… and make an informed choice and sign up for something feeling good about it.

Advertised Versus Actual U.S. Fixed Broadband Residential Download Speeds (Mbps)


The landscape is changing quickly.  Every day, new mobile devices and online applications are being developed that affect how Americans will use, and need, broadband.  Last week the FCC released an Action Agenda for the recommendations in the National Broadband Plan. On this blog we’ll continue to track our progress, and invite readers to join us in the conversation.

Click here to learn more about the state of the broadband ecosystem.

Live Blogging the April Open Commission Meeting

April 21st, 2010 by George Krebs

10:30am ET 

Today we put the plan into action. After months of envisioning an effective national broadband network, this is the exciting stuff we’ve been waiting for. Today we begin a long but fast-paced process to implement policy. The baton has been passed from the Broadband Team to the FCC’s Offices and Bureaus to put the plan to work. In presenting the final document, and in his last appearance before the commission, Broadband Team Executive Director Blair Levin told the commissioners, “The value of this plan should be judged by what comes of it. You have a Plan. Now is your time to act.”
Today we will present six items for the chairman and the commissioners to consider. These items range from planting the seeds for the Connect America Fund to efforts to bolster cyber security.
For background on today’s items visit our April Open Meetings page.
10:44am ET
“A full agenda,” Genachoswki says after Secretary Marlene Dortch announces the items to be considered. The chairman runs down a lengthy list of reforms the FCC has already put into place. Like the Broadband Plan that came before it, “the processes for implementing the plan will be characterized by transparency, inclusivity, and openness.”
11:04am ET
Item One - Connect America Fund: Tackling long awaited Universal Service reform
First up, Carol Mattey from the Wireline Competition Bureau introduces the Connect America Fund. She tells the story of a child she met who had trouble completing her homework without the Internet access available to other students. The Connect American Fund would directly support broadband without increasing the cost of the existing Universal Service Fund. The proposed Notice of Inquiry considers replacing the “legacy high cost program” with “efficient, targeted funding of networks that can provide data and voice service.”
Commissioners are overwhelmingly supportive. The item is voted for approval across the board. Reservations expressed arise from their recognition that this is a herculean undertaking. There’s a reason it has taken such a long time to enact reform. The Chairman sums up the sentiment of the bench saying, “[reforming Universal Service is a] multi-layered, complex, rubik’s cube of a project. It will not be easy. But it is also what we’re committed to do…There’s no dispute that we need to do this. It’s a big challenge.”
11:23am ET
Item Two – Roaming for mobile
Mobile data roaming is crucial these days. Consumers purchase phones for more than voice service. The Commission looks to adopt an automatic data roaming requirement. Again, the chairman and the commissioners come to a consensus and unanimously vote to adopt the item.
11:57am ET
Items three and four – Video devices
The Media Bureau’s Notice of Inquiry urges the Commission to develop an interface standard for all video services. This standard will encourage four goals:
  • Spur investment and innovation
  • Increase consumer choice
  • Allow unfettered innovation in multichannel video programming distributors (MVPD) delivery platforms
  • Encourage wider broadband use and adoption (televisions are the most widely present screens in the home)
The second prong of the presentation seeks to fix the problems with the CableCARD regime in the interim before a successor takes it place. The Notice of Proposed Rulemaking would achieve this through ensuring that these devices have equal access to programming, transparency in billing, and other mechanisms.
Commissioners and Chairman are, again, in agreement of the pressing need in this arena. The results of video services and CableCARD have been, in Commissioner McDowell’s words, “disappointing.” Both segments are adopted unanimously in the vote.
12:12pm ET
Item five – Survivability features of broadband
Moving to the public safety realm, the Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau urges the Commission to consider “A Notice of Inquiry that examines the survivability of broadband infrastructure and seeks comment on the ability of existing broadband networks to withstand significant damage or severe overloads as a result of natural disasters, terrorist attacks, pandemics or other major public emergencies.” More broadly the bureau asks what the FCC can do to improve the resiliency of broadband networks during times of crises.
The importance of this examination cannot be overstated. Not surprisingly, the chairman and the commissioners lavish wide spread praise for the proposal. “This item and the next item are last today,” the chairman says, “but they’re certainly not least…This is very important work that you are engaged in, that our commission is engaged in.”
12:30pm ET
Item six – Cyber Security Certification Program
Remaining at the table, Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau Chief Jamie Barnett begins, “At the same time that we’re seeing increasing dependence on these networks, communications providers are seeing increasing threats.” The Broadband Plan recommended the commission create a voluntary cyber security certification program. This Notice of Inquiry will look into establishing such a program. The proposed program will provide consumers more complete information about their providers’ cyber security apparatus. The presenters note that 87% of cyber security breaches could have been avoided if necessary cyber security measures were in place.
Commissioner Copps initiates comment from the bench. He, along with the others, sides with brevity. “The importance of these two items speaks for itself.” Chairman Genachowski summarizes, “Our broadband communications networks are becoming more essential in the lives of every American.” At the same time, the vulnerabilities are more alarming than ever before. These are items we need to move on forcefully. All those on the bench vote in favor of the Notice (constituting a trend on the day).
The meeting is adjourned.

Announcing “The Broadband Availability Gap” Staff Analysis

April 21st, 2010 by Rob Curtis - Deployment Director, Omnibus Broadband Initiative.

By Rob Curtis - Deployment Director and Steve Rosenberg - Manager of Infrastructure, Omnibus Broadband Initiative.

In the Plan, we wrote that 14 million Americans in 7 million homes do not have access to broadband service offering actual download speeds of 4 Mbps and actual upload speeds of 1 Mbps.  We found closing this gap would cost approximately $24 billion. The Plan recommended closing the gap by fundamentally refocusing the FCC universal service fund.

These figures are based on our analysis of the best available data inside the FCC and available from 3rd party sources.  Today, we release The Broadband Availability Gap, a staff technical paper detailing the methodology and model we used in our calculations. This is one of the most extensive, data-driven, detailed, and comprehensive analyses of broadband networks to date.  We believe it uses the best possible approach in light of the data currently available.  Releasing the detailed documentation of this effort also makes this one of the most transparent network analyses ever undertaken.

While complicated, the model we developed for the Plan essentially does two things.

First, it estimates the areas of the country in which 4/1 Mbps is not likely to be available in the next several years.  Our approach uses public and commercial data and relies in part on a statistical model to estimate the availability of broadband in every census block in the country.  This analysis focuses on the capabilities of the “last-mile” infrastructure (the access network), not on either subscribership or retail offerings. As we learn more from better FCC data gathering and state broadband data collection funded by NTIA, these estimates will improve. 

Second, it estimates the cost of bringing 4/1 Mbps to those unserved areas and the revenues that could be earned by doing so.  In doing so, it is conservative and technology-neutral.  We only modeled technologies—wireless, cable, satellite, and DSL—that are commercially-deployed today or will be in the near future. We wanted the model to inform practical solutions, not rely on promises of future breakthroughs.

While those steps sound straightforward, this paper shows that the task itself is complex. The financial model includes thousands of inputs, ranging from estimated signal propagation of wireless networks in particular geographies to the density of soil for trenching fiber optic cable in others.

The FCC has multiple servers supporting the model, and doing a run takes as much as 12 hours; the output from one such run produces roughly 4-5 gigabytes of data (and sometimes more).  The calculations required to reach the $24 billion gap require 10 model runs. Needless to say, a lot of time, sweat, and yes, on occasion, tears have gone into developing, building and supporting this model.

In developing the Plan, we are committed to openness and transparency. To this end, on May 6 at 3:00 pm, we will host a forum at the FCC to present an overview of our analysis and answer questions.  We stand behind our assumptions and conclusions in the technical paper. We look forward to feedback and discussion so that this analysis informs the policy process in the most impactful way.

Dust-Free Zone

April 16th, 2010 by Phoebe Yang - Senior Advisor to the Chairman on Broadband

A common criticism of major planning documents is that they end up gathering dust on the shelf, being used as door stoppers, getting stuffed in a file cabinet. But one month after its release, the National Broadband Plan is still flying off the shelf rather than gathering dust on it. More important, many of the recommendations have already been implemented or have traction. The FCC itself has implemented over a dozen ideas that were generated or gained momentum during development of the Plan, such as making Internet access in schools funded by the E-rate program available for community use, providing more flexibility in our Rural Health Care Pilot Program, streamlining mobile wireless tower sitings, increasing use of MSS spectrum for terrestrial service, and launching multi-agency efforts with the NTIA on spectrum and the FDA on wireless health care devices.   Outside the FCC, five partnerships or coalitions recommended by the FCC to encourage adoption or increase connectivity are already underway, including project GOAL for senior citizens, the Apps for Inclusion competition co-sponsored with the Knight Foundation, a small business partnership for digital literacy, a collaboration between technology companies and HUD to increase broadband adoption in low income households, and a consortium to upgrade connectivity in 40,000 community anchor institutions. . And at its upcoming meeting on April 21, the Commission will begin tackling six major policy recommendations in the plan, taking on issues like Universal Service Reform, cyber security, deployment of wireless data services, and innovation in television set-top boxes.

All this activity is no accident: the Plan was both visionary and pragmatic. It provides the push and direction needed by the Commission to move on tough issues, such as reforming universal service for broadband. And it identifies and prioritizes ideas for which there is already consensus, such as public-private partnerships for adoption. Plus, the plan itself provided the Commission with tools for action. A sophisticated economic model used to identify areas of the country that lack broadband connections can be a tool for figuring out how to best to provide service. A first-ever consumer survey on adoption has identified segments of the population that need the most help, whether they be people with disabilities, Tribal areas, the elderly or low-income communities.   The Plan’s recognition that competition thrives when consumers have more information has already been translated into action in a variety of tools launched by the Commission to help consumers and the agency assess available and advertised broadband speeds. Our user-friendly spectrum dashboard is already providing the public with more information about spectrum use.

So if you need a door stop, find something else. Chances are if you use the Plan for that, someone will snatch it away before it can gather any dust.

Your Stories About Broadband Internet Access

April 14th, 2010 by Page Schindler Buchanan

Since the rollout of the National Broadband Plan last month, Americans have shared their stories about broadband in their daily lives. In the end, expanding Broadband access is about improving people’s lives - fostering communities, providing access to services and information, and saving time and money.  

We asked you to share your stories of how access to broadband – and in some cases, the lack of broadband – affects you and your community.  The response has been phenomenal.  On this blog we will be talking more about your experiences, and how broadband innovation will make a difference for Americans and their families.  Here is just a sample of what you’ve shared with us so far.

Daniel in Sebastian, Florida

We offer essential services -- employment opportunities, applications for government assistance such as unemployment benefits and food stamps, and online interactions with educational institutions. Here at the Indian River County Library System … an ever-increasing number of patrons are filling our public computing sections to overflow. We want to add more computers. But we don't have sufficient bandwidth to handle the extra load. And with the severe budget cuts we've endured, we don't the funds to pay for it.

Stephen in Marietta, Georgia
Non-traditional College Student

Without broadband I would not have been able to easily and effectively continue my Bachelor of Science degree while working full-time.

Richard in Milwaukee, Wisconsin
Volunteer First Responder

I am a trained volunteer weather spotter for the NWS in the Milwaukee area, a First Responder trained by the CERT program, and an instructor in Emergency Communications for the American Radio Relay League.

As a first responder, having reliable wireless data communications is necessary when responding to an event and a large amount of data has to be moved or information garnered about the area and what is being dealt with. This could also involve sending pictures, text, information files, etc., by wireless. My current provider, -----, from my experiences, would not have a wireless system that could be reliable enough for First Responder needs in the field.

Jason in Guthrie, Oklahoma
Local Football Fan

We stream our Oklahoma Metro Football League over the internet live.

Frank in Eatonville, Washington

The only internet access available in our area is dial-up. The dial-up connection is a horrible 28.8Kbps. My company offers telecommuting but I can't work from home with such slow speeds. It's too bad because I have to drive almost 40 miles to work. Rural customers like me need an affordable broadband solution. It's like we're living in the stone age out here.

Carol in Reading, Vermont
Rural Doctor

As a surgeon, I need to watch surgical videos to learn new techniques and get my continuing medical education credits. I CANNOT DO THIS IN MY OWN HOME. … it is the lack of highspeed that hinders me professionally and may cause me to move back to civilization, depriving my rural neighborhood of a highly qualified doctor. My husband is a consultant and loses credibility because he cannot access information quickly during conference calls. Please help us.

Please keep sending us your stories.  We’ll continue to share your thoughts about the National Broadband Plan as we work to ensure broadband access for all Americans.

Letter to the President: “Unleash the Forces of Innovation”

April 10th, 2010 by Nick Sinai - Energy and Environment Director

On Monday the National Broadband Plan received a strong vote of support from a coalition of almost 50 leading technology companies, clean technology start-ups, non-governmental organizations, and venture capitalists.

Signatories include GE, Google, Comcast, AT&T, Verzion, Intel, HP, Nokia, Best Buy, Whirlpool, the Environmental Defense Fund, Alliance to Save Energy, ACEEE, NRDC, Foundation Capital, Khosla Ventures, and Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers.

In their open letter to President Obama, the coalition writes “every household and business [should have] access to timely, useful and actionable information on their energy use.” Specifically, the letter highlights the importance of allowing consumers to view their own energy consumption, pricing and pricing plans, and electricity generation sources.

It’s encouraging to see a diverse set of influential organizations endorse the principle that consumers should be able to get access to timely energy data as a way to “unleash the forces of innovation in homes and businesses” and prevent millions of tons of greenhouse gas emissions.

As highlighted in the letter, the National Broadband Plan delivered a similar vision a few weeks ago.  One of the six goals for the country in the plan is:

“To ensure that America leads in the clean energy economy, every American should be able to use broadband to track and manage their real-time energy consumption.”

The plan also included a series of recommendations to the states, the Administration, and Congress to encourage utilities to make energy information more available to consumers, in open, machine-readable formats.  Check them out in the National Broadband Plan.

Google and the Climate Group hosted a forum: “Power in Numbers: Unleashing Innovation in Home Energy Use” on Tuesday afternoon. I was on a panel, but the highlight of the day was the keynote: Carol Browner, Assistant to the President for Energy and Climate Change.

She mentioned that “we need people to really understand not only how much electricity they are using but where their electricity is coming from.” In addition, she said that “giving people this kind of real-time feedback will start to change not only their behavior, which is important, but equally important is start to drive the demand for more efficient appliances.”

We couldn’t agree more.

If you missed the event, check out these four videos:
Part 1 of 4
Part 2 of 4
Part 3 of 4
Part 4 of 4

Capture The Phone Numbers Using Your Camera Phone

If you have a camera and a 2D matrix code reader on your mobile phone, you can capture the FCC Phone numbers right to your phone by following these three easy steps:
Step 1: Take a photograph of one of the codes below using the camera on your mobile phone.
Step 2: Use your phone's Datamatrix or QR Code reader to decode the information on the photograph. Please note, these code readers are device specific and are available to download on the internet.
Step 3: Store the decoded address information to your phone's address book and use it with your Maps or GPS application.

Datamatrix and QR FCC Phones