On March 16, 2010, the Federal Communications Commission (“FCC”) announced the release of the National Broadband Plan (the “Plan”). The Plan outlines sweeping proposals intended to accelerate broadband access and adoption throughout the United States that will be implemented over the coming years. Over the coming months, the FCC will launch a series of rulemakings to seek public comment and adopt rules to implement these proposals. Broadband and telecommunications providers should expect these proceedings will be a key focus of the FCC for the next several years.
Among the Plan’s chief recommendations are proposals that would give the FCC and other policymakers an enhanced role in establishing and enforcing pro-consumer policies, including mandating heightened disclosure requirements for broadband service providers, publishing market-by-market analyses of broadband pricing and competition, and enhancing online privacy protections. The Plan also calls for the FCC to: increase the amount of spectrum available for allocation through the use of incentive auctions; expand the amount of spectrum available for unlicensed use; and increase the transparency of spectrum allocation in general. Further, the Plan includes recommendations to speed the development and adoption of technologies that touch on a wide range of policy objectives from health care to public safety to energy efficiency.
The FCC also set forth relatively detailed proposals calling for reforms to the Universal Service Fund (“USF”) and to intercarrier compensation (“ICC”). Regarding the Universal Service Fund, the Plan calls for the broadening of the USF contribution base over time in order to contain USF assessments. Further, the Plan calls for the FCC to shift $15.5 billion from the USF program to a new Connect America Fund (“CAF”) designed to support the provision of affordable broadband and eventually replace the USF’s “legacy” High-Cost component. The FCC also seeks to reform intercarrier compensation by eliminating per-minute charges over the next decade, and replacing those revenues with an “adequate cost recovery” provisioned through the CAF.