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Broadband expansion needed
Details still not resolved, but concept is a good one

Federal Communications Commission officials accomplished a good deal in releasing a 376-page National Broadband Plan designed to connect America but, as in anything, the devil's in the details.

The document's stated goal is to increase the portion of Americans with high speed Internet connections to 90 percent, from the current 65 percent, over the next decade and to significantly increase the connection speeds of homes with such service.

The initiative was mandated by last year's stimulus legislation and required by lawmakers, but what will be interesting to see is whether Congress has the wherewithal to implement any number of provisions outlined in this far-reaching package.

It will take a combination of public and private sector interests working together to get this nation's digital infrastructure up to speed without over-regulation.

Rural communities and low-income populations separated by a wide digital divide might gain access to broadband connectivity, which brings telephone, online video and mobile technologies. As a result, health, safety and education become far more accessible.

The FCC's executive summary contains long-term goals of increased Internet speeds in households at 100 megabit-per-second speed, boosting the United States to the point of a leadership role in mobile communications innovation, and offering Americans affordable access to "robust" broadband services.

The initiative also seeks to provide people the means and skills to subscribe if they wish, in addition to offering every community affordable access to at least 1 gigabit-per-second broadband service to schools, hospitals and government buildings.

Also included is first responder access to a nationwide wireless, interoperable broadband safety network and a proposal to ensure that this nation leads in the clean energy economy by enabling all Americans to use broadband to track and manage their real-time energy consumption.

The United States is woefully behind nations such as Japan, Australia and South Korea, and getting caught up is going to cost. Part of the money may come from an existing $8 billion annual fund for providing phone service to rural areas. The agency is also considering seeking up to $16 billion from lawmakers to build and operate a dedicated network for public safety responders. Auctioning the spectrum intended for wireless use is another avenue being explored.

All of these avenues, particularly those that cost a debt-ridden society even more, have to be considered carefully.

The FCC has put forth a fluid blueprint that remains a work in progress. Congress should take practical steps to work with the private sector in supporting this foray by the agency into the 21st century, and demand that careful attention is paid to the details.

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