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FCC seeks 'ultra-high-speed' link to all communities
March 22, 2010
by Mark Ollig

A blistering one gigabit per second is the speed the FCC would like each community in America to be able to access the Internet with.

One gigabit per second, as we know, is equal to 1000 Mb/s (megabits per second).

This is definitely faster than those old Hayes 28.8 kbps “smart modems” we used back in the day.

Last Tuesday, the FCC held an open meeting and made public the long-awaited details of “The National Broadband Plan.”

This plan is the federal government’s strategy for maximizing everyone’s access onto the “information superhighway” (ok, no one uses that term much anymore), or the Internet.

The FCC and C-Span web sites were live-streaming this open meeting and of course, your humble columnist was watching and taking notes.

There was even a Twitter hashtag “#BBplan” for this announcement, and many of us were tweeting out messages to each other.

The 376-page National Broadband Plan PDF document (which I downloaded and read) is divided into 17 chapters. You can also download or view it online at: www.broadband.gov/download-plan.

This plan is more or less a blueprint for how US regulators intend to provide broadband Internet access to the approximately 100 million Americans that currently do not have this type of access.

According to the latest report from the Information Technology Industry Council, America’s average download speeds of 4 megabits per second rank 15th in the world.

What is broadband?

In trying to respond in a technical manner, this question would lead to an assortment of answers.

I recognize factors like throughput; latency and bandwidth need to be considered.

Actually, an entire column could be devoted in attempting to define what broadband is, and opposing arguments as to its definition would still linger.

In a report released June 12, 2008, the FCC describes “basic” broadband speed as 768kbps to 1.5Mbps.

Today, on the FCC’s web site, they answer the question of what is broadband with “The FCC defines broadband service as data transmission speeds exceeding 200 kilobits per second (kbps), or 200,000 bits per second, in at least one direction: downstream (from the Internet to the user’s computer) or upstream (from the user’s computer to the Internet),” per www.fcc.gov/cgb/broadband.html.

The National Broadband Plan, itself, does not provide a de facto rate of data transfer speed for the term “broadband.”

If you want to test your Internet data connection’s current downloading speed, go to www.speedtest.net, or take the FCC’s consumer broadband test at: www.broadband.gov/qualitytest.

Other countries have different descriptions when it comes to the definition of broadband speeds. This Wikipedia link is a good place to start from: tinyurl.com/yk9fu7m.

There are several “pipeline” technologies which currently provide broadband speeds. Some of these include: cable modems, fiber optical interfaces, wireless, satellite – and, since I am in the business – Digital Subscriber Lines (DSL), and even combined telephone company T-1 lines. There is also a technology which has been talked about over the years called Broadband over Powerlines (BPL).

The National Broadband Plan was mandated by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act in February 2009. The summary report titled OBI (Omnibus Broadband Initiative) was produced by an FCC task force, which I wrote a column about back on March 8 of this year.

During the FCC open meeting, Blair Levin, executive director of Omnibus Broadband Initiative, compared the need for having broadband Internet in the same way we needed a national electrical grid to transform the country. Levin went on to say broadband is “. . . a profound and enabling technology whose impact will ripple throughout every aspect of our economy and society.”

“The National Broadband Plan is a 21st century roadmap to spur economic growth and investment, create jobs, educate our children, protect our citizens, and engage in our democracy,” said FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski.

The following is a list of goals taken from National Broadband Plan which are hoped to be implemented during the next 10 years:

Goal 1: At least 100 million US homes should 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.

Goal 2: The United States should lead the world in mobile innovation, with the fastest and most extensive wireless networks of any nation.

Goal 3: Every American should have affordable access to robust broadband service, and the means and skills to subscribe if they so choose.

Goal 4: Every community should have affordable access to at least 1 Gbps broadband service to anchor institutions such as schools, hospitals, and government buildings.

Goal 5: To ensure the safety of Americans, every first responder should have access to a nationwide public safety wireless network.

Goal 6: 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.

You can watch the complete two-hour-and-twenty-two minute FCC open meeting on the National Broadband Plan broadcast on the FCC’s YouTube channel. Here is a shortened link, which goes directly to the video: tinyurl.com/ybza6r2.

Other transcripts and videos covering the National Broadband Plan are available at www.broadband.gov.

This is indeed a bold plan. The next move will be for the US Congress to approve the roughly 200 proposals in it – so stay tuned.