Why You Should Pay Attention to the National Broadband Plan

The Federal Communications Commission will open up on Wednesday a Notice of Inquiry for the forthcoming National Broadband Plan, kicking off what interim FCC chair Michael Copps calls “an open, participatory, public process.” I hope it is, but traditionally our citizens have been quicker to complain to the providers of web-based services than to the agency that regulates the pipes over which such services are delivered. For those of you who want to participate (and don’t want to let Verizon (s VZ) or AT&T (s T) lobbyists dominate the conversation), I encourage you to file a comment.

The FCC does read them. When the agency solicited comments on the issue of Comcast (s CMCSA) blocking P2P files, it received thousands of them, some of which significantly influenced the proceedings. And the issue at stake with the National Broadband Plan is, quite frankly, far more important. The commission is expected to issue a series of questions in the hopes of figuring out where the U.S. currently stands with regard to broadband penetration and where it should go in terms of access technologies and speeds.

At the same time that it’s soliciting comments for the National Broadband Plan, the FCC will also be seeking input as to how it should advise the two agencies distributing the $7.2 billion in broadband stimulus funds. In the last week, telecommunications companies have weighed in as to whether stimulus money should go to underserved markets or unserved markets (the distinction could limit the scope of funds to areas with no broadband rather than areas where people have access to slow or expensive broadband), the definition of broadband, whether or not grant recipients should reach a minimum speed threshold (higher minimum speeds make wireless a less viable option), and if private entities even can get the stimulus money or if they will have to work with the states and non-profits.

Many of these issues will also be important in the National Broadband Plan, but if you’re not sure why this matters, think about your current broadband access (mine’s about 7 Mbps/second and about to be metered) and then check out today’s news that Australia will spend $31 billion building out a national broadband network with 100 Mbps pipes.