A First Step to Our National Broadband Plan

by Charles Benton

With the rush to implement the broadband-related provisions of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, little attention has been paid to a provision of the 2008 Farm Bill with requires the Federal Communications Commission and the Department of Agriculture to craft a comprehensive rural broadband strategy. This plan is due to Congress this Spring and the FCC has requested public input.

On March 25, the Benton Foundation filed comments at the FCC based mainly on our Action Plan for America. We argue that the rural broadband strategy should address the rural aspects of the comprehensive national broadband plan required of the FCC in the Recovery Act and due in early 2010. With historian Michael Copps at the helm of the FCC, we remind the Commission that the plan should not depart from the over arching purposes of U.S. Telecommunication Law: "to make available to all people of the United States a rapid, efficient, nation-wide and world-wide, wire and radio communications service with adequate facilities at reasonable charges." As then-candidate Barack Obama said, "Every American should have the highest speed broadband access ­ no matter where you live, or how much money you have."

It is of the utmost importance that the FCC stresses the wealth of tangible economic and quality of life benefits that people in rural areas are being denied through the lack of access to affordable broadband. In its rural broadband strategy, the Commission should recommend policies and initiatives that promote both the supply and demand for broadband. This will establish a "virtuous circle" in which an increased supply of robust and affordable broadband stimulates the creation of applications that produce wide ranging, valuable social benefits that then causes citizens to demand even more robust and affordable broadband; which in turn creates investment in more broadband; which then stimulates the creation of even more robust and affordable broadband.

In short, the plan must increase broadband demand to rural areas through Federal regulations that spur economic development, provide better health care at a lower cost, enhance education opportunities, reduce energy consumption, promote public safety, and strengthen how efficient, transparent government connects with its citizens.

I look forward to reading the thoughts of others and to seeing the FCC's report to Congress in May.

By Charles Benton.