FCC Requests Delay in Delivery of National Broadband Plan

WASHINGTON, D.C.—The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Thursday sent a letter to Congress asking for a one-month extension in the delivery of its national broadband plan to Congress. The Commission was directed by Congress to finish the plan—which is supposed to explain the Commission's strategy for delivering broadband access to all citizens—by Feb. 17.

"The commission respectfully requests a one-month extension for the delivery of the final plan," FCC chairman Julius Genachowski wrote to Sen. John Rockefeller, chairman of the Commerce Committee.

In asking for the extension, Genachowski explained that the “process for the Plan has been unparalleled in the history of the agency. It has included over 50 public workshops and field hearings, more than a dozen Public Notices.” The extra month, he said, would allow the agency to obtain further input from stakeholders.

The request also highlights the extraordinarily difficult challenge the FCC faces in a related matter, namely, the highly controversial and divisive ‘net neutrality’ issue, which has pitted some of the country's leading Internet companies, including Google and Skype, against the big phone and cable operators.

A federal appeals court held oral arguments Friday in Comcast Corp.'s challenge to the FCC's 2008 order that banned the company from blocking its broadband subscribers from using an online file-sharing technology known as BitTorrent, reported Business Week.

“The commission, at the time headed by Republican Kevin Martin, based its order against Comcast on a set of net-neutrality principles it adopted in 2005 to prevent broadband providers from favoring or discriminating against certain types of Internet traffic,” writes Joelle Tessler. “Those principles have guided the FCC's enforcement of communications laws on a case-by-case basis. Formally adopting those guidelines as binding regulations is a top priority for the FCC's new Democratic chairman, Julius Genachowski. The agency voted in October to start writing those rules.”

A key question both sides want resolved is whether the Commission has the legal authority to mandate network neutrality. A ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, expected this spring, could bolster the FCC proceeding if the agency prevails.

Google, which has a big stake in the resolution of all of these issues, Thursday expressed its support for a brief delay in the delivery of the FCC Broadband Plan.

“For years Google has been a vocal proponent of a national broadband strategy, and we're eager to see this plan delivered to Congress as soon as possible,” wrote Richard Whitt, Washington Telecom and Media Counsel. “That said, given the immense challenges faced by FCC staff in putting together such a comprehensive and far-reaching document, asking for an additional four weeks is not at all unreasonable. A broadband plan for our country may be too many years overdue, but with so much at stake, it's important to get this done right.

“We continue to believe that the FCC should set both shorter-term 'ubiquity' goals of bringing high-speed Internet access to every single American, and longer-term 'stretch' goals of driving the adoption of truly high capacity broadband pipes. We hope the Commission shares this dual vision, and we look forward to seeing their final product.”