The National Broadband Plan needs to be fixed -- already

Special interests are already undermining the National Broadband Plan and the FCC's vagueness on implementation is playing into their hands -- Web users must act now

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The plan calls for "the fastest and most extensive wireless networks" of any nation by 2020. It also proposes to allot more wireless spectrum for mobile devices, redirect some subsidies toward broadband access, develop a nationwide network for emergency first responders, and create a "digital literacy corps" to train new users.

Understanding the mess in the broadband market requires remembering a bit of history. When Bill Clinton became president in 1993, the Internet barely existed. By the time George W. Bush left office 16 years later, the technology world had been completely transformed, and we can no longer imagine life without the Web and a myriad of devices to access it.

Despite all that -- not to mention the billions upon billions of dollars of economic activity tied to the Web -- the government is, in many respects, clueless about how it works. And the report shows that.

It calls for the collection of data about market prices and performances. The FCC is already collecting data on connection speeds across the country via a test posted on its Website. Sure, that's a good idea, but hello, this is 2010. Why don't we know this already? Why, as Eric London of the Open Internet Coalition points out, are ISPs allowed to claim that 90Kbps service is broadband?

It could take years to collect that data. I'm aware, of course, that FCC chairman Julius Genachowski is not to blame for the astonishing paucity of data -- he's had the job for less than a year. But he's the guy in charge, and he needs to be sure the data is collected as soon as possible. Indeed, it would have been preferable to at least begin the collection process months ago.

Will you lose your TV signal?
The lobbying and PR blitz by special interests has already started. Let me quote from a story that ran in the San Francisco Chronicle on Wednesday: "The agency's proposal may force TV stations 'to change channels and reduce service areas, perhaps standing millions of viewers,' David Donovan, president of the broadcasters Asociation for Maximum Service Television, said Monday."

Yikes! Pretty scary -- or is it? In fact, because the plan lacks specifics, there is no way to judge if reallocation of some spectrum would squeeze out broadcast TV, says Michael Voellinger, executive president of Telwares, an IT and telecom consultancy that has looked hard at spectrum issues. "Anyone faced with a potential loss of spectrum is going to defend that turf," he says. But on the surface at least, that scary outcome doesn't seem to make a lot of sense, Voellinger says.

Even so, there is no doubt that wireless service is being crowded by a lack of spectrum, a shortage that will only get worse as wireless demand continues to grow.

David Coursey, my colleague over at PC World, said it very well: "It will be up to us -- the tech-savvy -- to push this plan through. Without our voices, it won't happen. It's just that simple -- and what does happen will be pro-business and likely anticonsumer. I'd say 'just watch' but it's a fate we really must avoid."

Exactly right -- read about the plan, tell your friends. Take the speed test. Lobby like crazy. If I've learned anything from the health care debacle, it's this: If we don't push hard, the special interests will win. Don't let that happen to the Web.

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This article, "The National Broadband Plan needs to be fixed -- already," was originally published at Read more of Bill Snyder's Tech's Bottom Line blog and follow the latest developments on Net neutrality at

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