The plan seeks to bring broadband internet to 100 million U.S. homes by 2020.

College faculty whose campuses are surrounded by neighborhoods that rely on antiquated dial-up internet connections are hoping the Federal Communication Commission’s National Broadband Plan will bring faster connections that won’t send students running to their campus’s high-speed network every time they need to complete an assignment online.

The plan, unveiled March 16 after a year of intense deliberation among the FCC and various stakeholders, seeks to bring broadband internet to 100 million U.S. homes by 2020. Fourteen million Americans don’t have broadband access, even if they want a high-speed option, according to federal estimates.

Ultra high-speed connections—at least 1 gigabit per second, or 100 times faster than a typical broadband network—also would be made available at “anchor institutions” such as hospitals, libraries, and colleges, according to the FCC’s plan.

The FCC did not detail the cost of the broadband expansion, but commissioners have said auctioning portions of national airwaves would help fund the massive program. That money would add to the $7.2 billion allocated for high-speed internet in the economic stimulus package passed by Congress last year.

“The status quo is not good enough for America,” said FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski, who mentioned the broadband plan’s potential for expanding the use of eBooks in education during his March 16 address. “If we don’t act, we are at risk.”

Community college decision makers were encouraged by the FCC’s inclusion of robust high-speed internet networks on two-year campuses, which soon could be a central location for locals who don’t have broadband internet at home.

The FCC asked Congress for enough funding to bring high-speed internet to all public community colleges and maintain the networks. Only 16 percent of the 3,439 community college campuses in the U.S. have access to the kind of high-speed internet service that is available at more than 90 percent of research universities, according to the FCC.

A new analysis of Census data, released Nov. 8 by the Commerce Department, shows the need for a federal broadband strategy. The U.S. still faces a significant gap in residential broadband use that breaks down along incomes, education levels, and other socio-economic factors, even as subscriptions among American households overall grew sevenfold between 2001 and 2009.

What’s more, even when controlling for key socio-economic characteristics, the U.S. continues to confront a racial gap in residential broadband use, with non-Hispanic white Americans and Asian-Americans more likely to go online using a high-speed connection than African-Americans and Hispanics.

The national broadband plan that federal regulators delivered to Congress in March doesn’t go far enough to satisfy some experts, who warn that the United States would still trail other industrialized nations in prices and speed, reports the Associated Press. That’s because the proposal fails to bring adequate competition to a duopoly broadband market now controlled by giant phone and cable TV companies, critics say.


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