Today, the U.S. Federal Communications Commission began work on a national broadband plan with the goal of ensuring that all consumers have access to services that are fast and affordable. The plan is due to Congress by Feb. 17, 2010, and could have a profound impact, according to Ben Scott, public policy director of Free Press, a media advocacy group. “It could be a very important document that guides the future of telecommunications regulation and the future of the Internet,” he says. “Or it could be a glorified study.”

President Obama considers broadband to be basic infrastructure, like electricity and water, and wants the FCC to do what it can to help drive adoption rates across the USA. Congress has allocated $7.2 billion in stimulus funding to entice companies to deploy broadband.

Currently, broadband costs $40-$60 a month on average in the USA, putting it out of reach for many low-income consumers. But new competition from small wireless providers may begin driving prices down.

Although broadband is widely available in urban and suburban markets, dial-up access is still common in many rural areas. Dial-up isn’t fast enough to handle interactive content, such as video streaming. Satellite-based broadband is an option for rural consumers, but it tends to be quite slow. In the USA, the average broadband speed is less than 3 megabits per second. In other countries, like Japan, average speeds are more than 60. Australia recently committed to 100 megabits.

Scott says the FCC would do well to heed those examples. “If we’re talking about the Internet as infrastructure, the bar (on speed) has to be pretty high.”

Source: USA Today

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