The FCC's broadband plan: Winners and losers

Editor’s Note: The following article is reprinted from the Today @ PC World blog at PCWorld.com.

The Federal Communications Commission’s national broadband plan is meant to benefit all Americans, but not every group or company is going to be happy with the proposal. The nature of politics holds that there will be winners and losers as the government steps in to boost the quality and availability of Internet in the United States. The actual implementation of the plan could change lawmakers get their hands on it, but here’s an early look at who gains and who loses from the national broadband plan:

Winner: 100 million patient homes, plus communities

One major long-term goal of the plan is to provide 100 million homes with 100 Mbps broadband, and to install 1 Gbps broadband at community sites such as schools and government buildings, all by 2020. That’s an eternity in Internet time, but it’ll ultimately mean that most homes and communities could have blazing-fast connections.

Winner: People Who Can’t Afford or Access the Internet

Another major goal is the availability of free or cheap wireless broadband, coming from wireless spectrum that the FCC will identify for auction. The point is to provide basic Internet nationwide for people who otherwise can’t afford it.

Winner: Wireless carriers

Companies like Verizon Wireless and AT&T are dying for more wireless spectrum to feed a growing number of data-hungry smartphones. The FCC plans to throw them a bone with 500 MHz of spectrum. Wireless industry group CTIA is thrilled.

Loser: Broadcast Television

The government is largely relying on broadcasters to voluntarily give up some of their spectrum so it can be used for broadband. Broadcasters like having the choice, but worry that the government might force them to give up spectrum if they don’t play along. Things could get ugly if broadcasters have to start sharing spectrum or use low-power cellular transmitters to broadcast. People who rely on broadcast TV may find that service is merely surviving, rather than improving.

Loser: Lawmakers

Members of Congress were the ones who mandated a national broadband plan, but now they’ve got the unenviable task of figuring out what to do with it. The total cost of the plan could range from $12 billion to $25 billion, and though the FCC hopes those costs can be recouped by auctioning spectrum, it might be a hard sell to taxpayers.

Unknown: Internet service providers

Companies such as Comcast are getting a hand from the FCC to build their infrastructure and offer better service to more people. But government help raises questions of how much regulation those companies will face, and whether they should continue to rely on private investment. Service providers seem happy about the proposal for now, but things could change as lawmakers and the FCC delve deeper into the issue of national broadband.

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