ArtsWatch: FCC's National Broadband Plan — The Beginning

Agency launches push to make U.S. Internet infrastructure faster and universally available
March 22, 2010 -- 10:38 am PDT
By Philip Merrill / GRAMMY.com

The Recording Academy actively represents the music community on such issues as intellectual property rights, music piracy, archiving and preservation, and censorship concerns. In pursuing its commitment to addressing these and other issues, The Recording Academy undertakes a variety of national initiatives. ArtsWatch is a key part of an agenda aimed at raising public awareness of and support for the rights of artists. To become more involved, visit Advocacy Action @ GRAMMY.com and sign up for Advocacy Action E-lerts.

On March 16 the Federal Communications Commission released its National Broadband Plan (at www.broadband.gov), laying the groundwork to move the United States back to the forefront of international Internet competitiveness. Consumer-oriented goals include download speeds of 100 megabits per second for 100 million homes, affordability of service, developing digital literacy, wireless broadband, and the ability to monitor personal energy consumption online. Goals to support community infrastructure include 1 gigabit per second broadband for schools, hospitals and government buildings, and the creation of a national wireless network for first-responders. The FCC expects to launch dozens of related proceedings over the next year to move the plan ahead. Scheduled hearings on the plan include the Senate Commerce Committee on March 23 and the House Commerce Committee on March 25. By expanding the Internet playing field, the plan will help legitimate online music services reach more customers, but at the same time, the music industry will have to watch for an expansion of content piracy.

Of the many stakeholders affected, none panned the FCC's National Broadband Plan, although all called attention to the need for careful work going forward on the areas affecting their interests. The RIAA and the MPAA were complimentary. So was Copyright Alliance, which called attention to the role its copyright education materials could play in national digital literacy efforts. (link) Consumer advocates Public Knowledge praised the plan for its "appropriate restraint on copyright language" and reviewed their extensive wish list for future progress, including calling attention to the troublesome issue of whether the FCC's regulatory authority is adequate to achieve the plan's mission. Otherwise, supporting legislation will be required in relevant areas. (link) The agency's ambitions for wireless Internet are spectrum-hungry, creating a conspicuous conflict with television broadcasters as spectrum incumbents. (link) However, the National Association of Broadcasters was upbeat about its willingness to work cooperatively going ahead. (link) The FCC's promotion of a national framework for taxing digital goods such as music and ringtones could produce conflicts with state tax laws. (link) The toughest challenge is likely to be the most central — intervening in the broadband marketplace itself. As consumer advocates Free Press Executive Director Josh Silver said, "To put the market to work for American consumers, the FCC will need to foster competition to drive down prices and drive up speeds. This will require confronting the market power of the cable and telephone giants that control the broadband market." (link)

On March 11 the FCC released two broadband consumer tools at www.broadband.gov — an Internet speed test and an application for reporting "dead zone" street addresses where broadband service is not available for purchase. (link) The speed test was used by 80,000 consumers in the first two days of its availability. FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski said, "Transparency empowers consumers, promotes innovation and investment, and encourages competition. The FCC's new digital tools will arm users with real-time information about their broadband connection and the agency with useful data about service across the country. By informing consumers about their broadband service quality, these tools help eliminate confusion and make the market work more effectively." In addition to promoting consumer awareness, these tools build out the FCC's in-house database. (link) Both of those aspects provide ways to pressure incumbent Internet service providers without exceeding the FCC's regulatory authority.

Julius Genachowski explicitly invited media companies to participate in developing the FCC's Children's Agenda for Digital Opportunity in a speech at the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History on March 12. (link) Although included in the National Broadband Plan, this agenda is more far-reaching. Its four "core pillars" are digital access, literacy, citizenship, and safety. The need for access is somewhat straightforward. The FCC Chair managed to discuss digital safety with no mention of the perils of encountering malware while P2P file-sharing. Digital citizenship will encourage responsible norms of behavior — one possible place where copyright education could fit in. Of the four pillars, digital literacy offers the best opportunity to raise awareness of intellectual property issues because it includes "teaching kids to... create and share new content." (link) Roundtable meetings to develop a national digital literacy program will lead up to a children's summit at the end of the year to evaluate progress. A digital literacy corps will be recruited and trained to reach out to new broadband users, and an online digital literacy portal will offer courses to children, parents and teachers.

On March 17 cable public service network C-Span released its entire video library since 1987 online. (link) Features include the ability to embed and stream clips, and a Congressional Chronicle documenting every speech by every senator and representative. With more than 160,000 hours available, unpredictable uses of the archive are expected. An early example was the swift discovery by Romanian bloggers of a former Romanian president's 1990 speech to the United Nations. (link)

 

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