About two-thirds of U.S. households have high-speed internet access now. Many people in the remaining one-third could get broadband service but choose not to, because they think it’s too expensive or because they don’t see a need for it. The FCC plan calls for increasing adoption rates to more than 90 percent of the population, in part by creating a Digital Literacy Corps to teach people how to use the internet.
When rural areas lack broadband access, it’s often because phone and cable companies haven’t found it worthwhile to invest in dragging high-speed lines to remote places that would have few subscribers. One way the FCC hopes to expand broadband use is with wireless technology.
The wireless industry currently licenses about 500 megahertz of the wireless spectrum. In a move akin to adding more lanes to a freeway, the FCC hopes to free up another 500 MHz over the next decade, both for licensed purposes and for uses that don’t require a license, such as Wi-Fi networks. The agency hopes to get roughly 120 MHz of that spectrum from broadcasters of free, over-the-air TV. It would allow broadcasters to unload frequencies they don’t need and share in the proceeds raised by auctioning those airwaves to wireless companies.
That proposal has run into fierce resistance from the National Association of Broadcasters, however. TV broadcasters already gave up more than 100 MHz of spectrum when they shut off analog signals last year and began broadcasting only in digital. Many say they plan to use their remaining frequencies to transmit high-definition signals, to “multicast” multiple channels, and to deliver mobile TV to phones, laptops, and cars.
The FCC plan also lays out a framework for overhauling the federal Universal Service Fund to pay for expanding broadband instead of basic telephone service. The $8 billion-a-year program, financed by a surcharge that businesses and consumers pay on long-distance bills, was established to subsidize telephone service in sparsely populated places.
Tapping this pool of money for broadband could be an uphill push, too, because the long-distance revenue base that supports the Universal Service Fund is shrinking. The FCC plan offers several options to pay for the new broadband programs, including one that would require no additional money from Congress and one that would accelerate the construction of broadband networks if Congress approves a one-time injection of several billion dollars.
Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.
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