Marking an Anniversary

By Tom Koutsky, Chief Policy Counsel, Connected Nation

Today is the first anniversary of the National Broadband Plan, and already we’re seeing debate about whether the Federal Communications Commission is “on track” or “behind” in implementing the Plan. At one level, it is somewhat refreshing for the FCC, an agency whose decision-making process often used to bear a striking resemblance to a black box, to chart its progress and list its agenda.

But that discussion misses the fundamental message of the Plan. The purpose of the Plan was to set an agenda, point a direction, and change the way that government — at all levels — approached broadband. After all, it is a National Broadband Plan, not an FCC Broadband Plan.

Broadband technology is truly transformative to society, and we’re seeing that power most vividly this year in Tunisia, Egypt, Japan, and beyond. Yet at this moment, American society is not fully utilizing the opportunities of broadband technology. Entire industries like education and healthcare lag the rest of the economy in terms of broadband use, and one-third of Americans risk falling even further behind in terms of opportunity by not adopting broadband.

Closing the digital literacy, adoption, utilization, and availability gaps will require government and the private sector to work together and make transformative changes. And this is why judging the Plan’s success by some checklist of what the FCC has done in one year is short-sighted. Because when you step outside the FCC, it is easy to see the Plan’s results.

For example:

  • even in tough economic times, the government of Puerto Rico is now funding public computing centers so its citizens can acquire digital skills and use the Internet;
  • dozens of school districts have established wireless networks that allow students to take school-supplied laptops home to do homework, allowing teachers to make broadband-based assignments without worrying about which students had access at home;
  • hundreds of libraries and community centers are opening their doors to Connect Ohio’s Every Citizen Online digital literacy training program, showing that community anchor institutions can play a lead role in changing the digital future of their communities;
  • states like Iowa, Nevada, and Alaska have established broadband task forces, public-private partnerships with the charge of reorienting state and local efforts directed at increasing broadband use and adoption.

And that list only scratches the surface and does not even consider the steps that other federal and state agencies — from Smart Grid deployments to broadband data collection initiatives — are taking in response to the Plan’s recommendations.

These programs will expand dramatically over the next three years. If that momentum continues, and if policy follows course by facilitating and prompting such initiatives, the Plan will be a success –regardless of what the boxes on a checklist say.

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