After many months of speculation, anticipation, trepidation, and debate, the Federal Communication Commission’s (FCC) National Broadband Plan (NBP) was released yesterday. It was officially released just prior to the open meeting held for the Omnibus Broadband Initiative (OBI) team responsible for crafting the NBP to formally present it to the Commission. Though not as enmeshed in the details of developing the NBP as the FCC team was, many of us in the Washington Office have been following the drama closely.
After filing comments this past fall, providing data and clarifications to the education and economic development teams, and supporting an FCC commissioned study on barriers to adoption, seeing the 360-page document warrants due pause. Attending the open meeting was both a small reward and a reminder of the tremendous work yet to be done.
The open meeting was as much a recognition of the long and tedious hours put in by the OBI team as it was a moment for reflection on the opportunities before us as the plan moves from recommendations to action steps. Chairman Julius Genachowski opened the meeting by enumerating the various ways this initiative is unique for the Commission. He rightly praised the process as open and transparent as well as publically inclusive. The Commission held 36 public workshops and issued 31 public notices. These notices resulted in 23,000 comments and 74,000 pages that the OBI team reviewed. Many of these comments are included in the NBP as direct examples and footnotes. Genachowski lauded the use of “new media” to create further avenues for reaching the public. Blogband.gov had over 1,200 comments which are now part of the official record and @fcc, the Commission’s Twitter feed, has over 333,000 followers.
The tone of the meeting balanced a sense of accomplishment on the part of the Commission and the OBI team with the understanding that to bring the plan to fruition will require months of hearings, rulemakings, and debate. Participating in yesterday’s event, even as an audience member, brought home to me that the NBP creates both opportunities and challenges in the months and years ahead. We have been given a chance to affect the course of broadband connectivity and adoption for communities nationwide. A number of recommendations highlighted by the Commissioners and the OBI team shout “library.” These include a focus on digital literacy skills training, increasing civic engagement, and improving the E-rate program. As we move forward digesting the NBP, I am hopeful we can successfully articulate the role libraries play in helping their patrons reap the benefits of high capacity broadband connectivity.
OITP Information Technology Policy Analyst