FCC Commissioner Mignon L. Clyburn during a speech at the Digital Inclusion Summit (pdf), suggested that the FCC may dedicate spectrum to free wireless Internet service.
The staff has come up with a number of recommendations with these goals in mind. To help with cost, the Plan recommends expanding low income Universal Service support to broadband, and exploring using spectrum for a free or very low cost wireless service.
Partnerships between the public, private, non-profit and philanthropic sectors can help address the relevance barrier by encouraging comprehensive solutions that combine hardware, service, training and content, and by conducting outreach and awareness campaigns that target underserved communities.
Continuing federal support for state and local broadband initiatives is also essential.
Altogether, 93 million Americans do not have broadband at home. And adoption rates are much lower among certain populations, including rural Americans [50%], the elderly [65%], persons with disabilities [42%], low-income Americans [40%], African Americans [59%], and Hispanics [49%]. Among the 13 million children between the ages of 5 and 17 who do not have broadband at home, 6 million are either Hispanic or African American. These disparities won’t just disappear over time if we sit back and do nothing.
The FCC provided few details on Tuesday about how it would carry out such a plan and who would qualify, but will make a recommendation under the National Broadband Plan set for release next week. The agency will determine details later.
The National Broadband Plan wants 90% of Americans to be using broadband by 2020, compared to 65% today. It envisions federal, state and local private/nonprofit partnerships that will bridge the digital divide (pdf).
Part of the FCC’s Broadband plan will include the suggestion to add broadband service to the FCC’s Lifeline and Link-Up programs, which provides affordable telephone service to low-income residents. The Lifeline plan provides up to $10 monthly discounts on basic monthly phone service, while Link-Up pays up to half (maximum $30) of the installation fee for wireline service or activation fee for wireless service.
The FCC also said there would also be a recommendation in the broadband blueprint to launch a Digital Literacy Corps of volunteers who would provide training to communities with low rates of adoption.
One way of making broadband more affordable is to “consider use of spectrum for a free or a very low cost wireless broadband service,” the FCC said in a statement.
ZDNet lists ISM bands ratified by the ITU (above), such as 2.4 and 5.4 GHz used by WIFI and WIMAX technologies.
M2Z put forward a plan to use the 25 Mhz chunk (2155-2180 Mhz) using TDD Mobile WiMAX. It proposed free service (funded by advertising), as well as pay tiers.
In May, 2006, M2Z asked the FCC to give it a national 25 megahertz block of airwaves. The start-up said in lieu of payment, it would pay the Treasury 5% off the top. The idea of handing out airwaves potentially worth billions didn’t go over very well at the agency. But in May, 2008, then FCC Commissioner Kevin Martin proposed auctioning off the airwaves to a company willing to set aside some of its airwaves for free use. The network would have to reach 50% of the U.S. population in four years and 95% within a decade.
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