The Federal Communications Commission has unveiled some of its ideas for strengthening the US broadband network to help the economy. The changes could include subsidies to improve provision in rural areas, measures to improve accessibility for people with disabilities, and a one-box solution to rival cable and video-on-demand services.
The report issued this week (PDF file) is only a preliminary set of ideas and is designed to promote discussion. The final plan is to be published in February and will detail how the FCC intends to use funding provided for broadband from the economic stimulus package passed earlier this year.
One of the main proposals is for the government to build broadband networks in areas where current providers don’t think it is profitable to do so. Under the plan, the money for this would come from the Universal Service Fund. This money, which comes from a levy on phone lines, is currently used to ensure everyone in the country has access to phone service.
The plan also deals with disability issues when accessing internet services, though it appears this will be merely through promoting better designed websites and more equipment such as screenreaders, rather than any legal changes or increased funding.
There may also be more details available to customers about the performance of rival broadband providers, the idea being that this will increase the likelihood that people will jump ship to get the best service.
Another goal is to finally settle an ongoing debate about the best way to use the wireless spectrum. This could involve reallocating the frequencies used by TV broadcasters where wireless internet services could use the space more efficiently. It could also mean finding ways to take advantage of currently unused “white noise” between frequencies which are already allocated.
Perhaps the most radical measure is to overhaul the way people get set-top boxes. At the moment most viewers either rent a box from a cable or satellite provider or receive it free with their subscription. The FCC believes this provides no incentive for manufacturers to produce better quality boxes with innovative features. Its proposal is to force all service providers (including those offering video-on-demand) to make their technology available so that firms can produce and sell boxes which are compatible with all TV and internet services.
FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski (pictured) said reaching the plan’s aims would be a taunting task: “But its difficulty merely increases the urgency of advancing now toward our ultimate goal of creating a ubiquitous broadband infrastructure that addresses the growing costs of digital exclusion and that will allow every American to enjoy the extraordinary benefits that high-speed Internet access can provide.”